Warby Parker, the mostly internet operation that sells boutique quality eyewear at low prices and works to provide access to glasses to the 15% of the global population that can't work or learn without them, discussed their technology enabled brand with Carl Quintanilla of CNBC. Warby Parker uses technology in their new retail operation that incorporates innovations and business intelligence systems to both improve shopper experience and to help them maximize the quality of their customer experience and grow their brand. Warby Parker has translated their online business practices to their brick and mortal operation blurring the lines between the two worlds for the tech savvy retailer. We were struck by the use of the latest in location services as part of new store infrastructure. (The video of the interview is below.)
Internet based retail establishments have benefitted from being able to use analytics to understand users browsing habits, how long they stay on a particular page, what links they click on, how the shopper was referred to the site and the particular page and how and where they entered a site and where they went after they left. Retail establishments are now benefitting from the same type of analytics.
Location based services that allow technology enables businesses to track shoppers movements around retail establishments to determine what shoppers are looking at and how long they are spending looking at particular products and displays. These applications will blur the lines between the on-line, mobile while in the store and in-store experiences. Many major retailers are building store mode applications that provide store specific ads, coupons, and product information. Walmart has the equivalent of an in-store inventory map that lets customers find products in the store using their smartphone. Like using the kiosk at Barnes & Noble to find books in the store but this time it' a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) variation.
According to Gibu Thomas, the senior VP of mobile and digital for Walmart Global eCommerce,
two weeks after Walmart launched "in-store mode" with its app, roughly 60 percent of its shoppers opted to use it. Moreover, about 12 percent of Walmart's sales that come through its app are coming from customers who are inside a store and using "in-store mode." It works in all of Walmart's 4,000 U.S. stores.
These metrics, and the growth in mobile and in-store mobile in particular, make it fertile ground for the holders of business methods patents to explore enforcement opportunities. This is particularly troubling when looking at the overall patent quality and the fuzzy and overly broad inventive boundaries of the earliest e-commerce and retail location services business methods patents.
Apple's recent acquisition of WiFiSlam, a company specializing in indoor GPS that enables a smartphone to pinpoint its location — along with that of friends and other users in realtime up to 2.5 meters. According to WiFiSlam it wants to,
engage with users at the scale that personal interaction actually takes place …and provide step-by-step indoor navigation to product-level retail customer engagement, to proximity-based social networking.We weren't able to find intellectual property owned by WiFiSlam, the four founders of the firm, or Stanford. That doesn&39;t mean its not there. It just isn't obvious. The Apple acquisition will bring the firm into the fold of a very patent savvy organization.
Same for the folks at Warby Parker. No visible patents. Again, just because we have't found them doesn''t necessarily mean they aren't there. Warby Parker is reportedly in talks with Google to make its Glass eyewear more stylish. Google knows quite a bit about patents as well.
How It Works
Here is a high level view of what the technology does.
Systems in malls and airports are Wi-Fi fingerprinting. In this approach, someone walks through each physical site to be included in the location service application, and gathers "fingerprints" every few meters. These fingerprints consist of signal strengths of all the Wi-Fi or cellular signals that the phone can receive. Then, the phone can estimate its location by comparing the signal strengths it receives to the collection of fingerprints. This tends to be more accurate than signal triangulation, but requires preparation (fingerprint collection) for each site to be covered.
Alternatively, instead of phones calculating their own locations, the network itself tracks the locations of phones as they move around. This tends to work very well, and requires less work by the phones. Special systems put in place by stores, or high-end Wi-Fi networks (high power, sophisticated self-contained WiFi) that include this feature are deployed by the retail establishments. As the visitor makes his or her way around the store, the system tracks their movements and the metrics on how long they stayed in each product location.
But What About the Patents?
This is the type of disruptively innovative technology and the technology-enabled brands it supports will enhance the shopers experience while enabling the company to continuously improve its service and produc delivery. But we can't help but wonder...
How long it will take before they find themselves embroiled in the latest smartphone patent wars? When will the holders of e-commerce location-based services inventions, business methods patents, will come calling looking for royalties? Will their technology enables brand come face to face with computer enabled inventions dragging the firm into the world of patent infringement and non-practicing entities and potentially slowing down the firm.
The non-practicing entities are building portfolios in the wireless and mobile space as well as focused holdings in the GPS and personal navigation domains. Acacia Technologies has patent portfolios in internet/ecommerce/business methods and wireless. Other operating and non-operating firms are building their own strategic collections of significant patent holdings. Technology-enabled retail is a prime market for exploiting these IP assets. It is a target rich environment.