Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games, People Operating Technology, Booyah, Bolt Creative, Thwapr, Monkeyland Industries, Rocket Racing League, Vlingo, Advanced Mobile Protection, PapayaMobile, Taptu, GameHouse and Avatron.
This week FierceDeveloper profiles mobile commerce firm aisle411.
Fewer than four months into 2011, it's clear this is shaping up as The Year of Mobile Commerce. Isis, the nationwide m-commerce network announced late last year by Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA, continues to gather steam, while odd operator out Sprint Sprint (NYSE:S) has vowed to introduce Near Field Communications-based mobile payments services of its own by year's end.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and possibly Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) are poised to unveil contactless payments solutions as well, and Square--the mobile payment solutions firm headed up by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey--is now processing over $1 million in transactions each day.
But the promise of mobile commerce expands beyond payment technologies--which is where start-ups like aisle411 enter the equation. The aisle411 mobile retail navigation solution enables consumers to more efficiently make their way through local stores, mapping the location of desired items in addition to supplying product reviews and shopping list management tools--users are further rewarded with coupons and virtual reward badges. In late February, aisle411 extended its free iPhone application to its 1,000th U.S. store, and last month, the firm partnered with location-as-a-service platform provider Location Labs to introduce opt-in, real-time alerts on available coupons and access to store navigation resources when shoppers approach a store in its system.
FierceDeveloper spoke to aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn about the application's evolution, the challenges of engaging shoppers and the future of in-store mobile commerce.
Nathan Pettyjohn on aisle411's origins: aisle411 was founded in 2008 with a focus on making shopping easier for consumers. We built and launched a native iPhone application focused on search and navigation tools for inside the store. Our proprietary search engine takes into account the store's inventory and floor layout, and builds an interactive mapping solution. Over time we've started to layer in coupons, barcode scanning, product information and a shopping list solution--over 70 percent of shoppers use a list. The next phase is to attach our solution to other shopping list building and pre-payment solutions.
The challenge is to give the user a habit-forming situation where they remember to use the app on a regular basis. When you pull your car into the store's parking lot, we can push out a notification that greets you, reminds you to check out offers inside the store and helps you more effectively navigate your shopping list. There are so many ways to engage shoppers.
We're looking to serve between 5,000 and 15,000 locations by the end of this year. Our ultimate goal is to be anywhere you go and anywhere you shop. Retailers know that within five years, the majority of shopping lists are going to be executed in-store on a mobile device.
Pettyjohn on the challenges of re-creating the shopping experience on mobile: We built some stores without retailer engagement--other times we work with the stores, and they feed us all their data. Even using public data, we've figured out how to make an application that's about 80 percent to 90 percent accurate. In the case of our Lowe's and Home Depot solutions, we built everything through crowdsourcing. But when we work directly with retailers, we can develop a solution that's 99 percent accurate. They're feeding us updates on all their movements, changes and resets, and our maps are automatically updated. That's our secret sauce.
Stores don't change as much as you would think. Most changes happen around promotions and endcaps, which are vendor-managed. We don't push shoppers to the promotional aisle--we take you to where that item is stationary. Shoppers also can edit store information, and we reward them. We'll give you a social gaming badge to thank you for helping us.
Pettyjohn on aisle411's future: When we started developing aisle411, most of the attention from early adopters was on the iPhone. Even a year ago, the iPhone was far ahead of Android, and when you're a startup and you only have so many resources, you have to pick and choose which platforms you target. But now we're launching on Android in a few weeks, and we're also exploring mobile web solutions. Five years from now, you could see the majority of mobile solutions based on HTML5.
Looking ahead, we're going to see the merger of online shopping with the in-store shopping experience and mobile payments. For example, let's say you go into a retailer looking for new headphones--you use your smartphone to get recommendations, so you're typing into online databases. Maybe the product you're looking for is available in-store, or maybe there's another, more complementary item that isn't, so you buy it through your phone. We definitely think that in-store navigation and search is the key component to making it all work. We're the last communication touchpoint before the purchase is made.
Pettyjohn's advice for aspiring mobile developers: Take the time to figure out your UI before you start developing, or else the development process takes a lot longer. We ran into that problem. Also, be prepared to work through a lot of bugs, and prepare to spend time testing and working through your application prior to launch.