Point Inside Locates $3.2M to Fuel Indoor GPS for Retailers

8/2/12Follow @curtwoodward

Even for some of the brightest technology minds of this generation, mobile advertising is a tough nut to crack. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg and company.

While the media portals sort that out, a different breed of company is banking on the mobile computing revolution by helping bricks-and-mortar retailers serve the people in their stores. And one of the leaders is Bellevue, WA-based Point Inside, which just landed $3.2 million in new investment cash from unnamed angels to fuel its growth.

Point Inside helps retailers connect with shoppers by putting together detailed digital maps of their stores’ layouts, combining information about product locations with the real-time signal from a customer roaming the aisles and picking up products—a kind of indoor GPS. The systems can do this by taking advantage of existing wireless networks and other communication signals that are present inside a building, building a map where satellite-based GPS won’t work.

So, imagine a busy parent making an urgent grocery store run. When they’re grabbing diapers and baby wipes in one aisle, the retailer’s mobile app could seamlessly offer up a discount on baby food or bibs, for instance. Buying beer? How about some savings on chips and salsa to go with it? You get the picture.

At its best, this kind of service promises to be way more powerful than traditional advertising. Even targeted display advertising relies on something of a shotgun strategy: You pump out information, hoping to catch the right slice of people when they’re ready to buy. Pinpointing a shopper’s travels and their other selections flips that on its head, because you’re getting a consumer right when they’re in buy mode.

Point Inside has been working toward that vision since its founding in 2009. Its clients have included Clients include Continental and United Airlines, Clear Channel’s airport advertising branch, mall owner General Growth Properties, and Meijer, a regional retailer that operates big combination grocery-and-merchandise stores. The service includes advanced functions, like the ability to help shoppers plot out turn-by-turn directions for their shopping list to get them through the store faster.

Since Point Inside is a business-to-business provider, there are also customers that the young company can’t discuss publicly. But co-founder and CEO Josh Marti says Point Inside is nearly ready to announce partnership deals with a pair of top-10 retailers in the very near future.

“We had another year where we doubled revenues last year, and we’ll be beyond that this year,” Marti says. “We see really this holiday season as being an inflection point.”

That inflection point is coming, he says, because marketing chiefs at big retailers are starting to get more empowered to blend digital services into their offerings. In the past, there may have been some friction within a big business between the marketing arm and the IT division, for instance, that could lead to roadblocks for a service-provider like Point Inside to make headway.

Marti points in particular to the recent hiring of former Starbucks information chief Stephen Gillett to head up digital business for Best Buy. “He’s got an experience that is unique,” Marti says. “You’ll see that leaders like that are merging IT and marketing.” Does that mean Point Inside’s working with Best Buy, then? “No comment,” Marti says. Guess we’ll have to stay tuned on that one.

There are several established companies tackling the indoor location market already, including backend providers like Boston’s Skyhook Wireless and the consumer-facing mapping behemoth itself, Google. Smaller companies are cropping up all the time as well, Marti says: “There’s one every two or three weeks.”

But Point Inside is happy with its position in the business-to-business market, where the deals can be really large. That’s because most retailers’ existing e-commerce systems are designed for a desktop computing world, and often have only the smallest overlap with what’s actually on the shelves. That means a new indoor location-based shopping system needs a whole new platform for serving up ads and offers.

“We’re proud of our balance sheet and income statement running the majority of our company,” he says.

 

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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