Groundbreaking Romanian-made technology reveals to retailers all your personal shopping habits, using your phone location

Anca Alexe 27/03/2018 | 16:29

Most of us carry our smartphones with us wherever we go, including when we’re shopping. Retailers now have a way to use our attachment to our devices for their own benefit. By following our location with extreme accuracy, a retailer can send notifications to our phones just as we approach their physical store in a shopping mall, alerting us to offers, deals or new products.

The technology used for this type of marketing is called “location intelligence”, and it was developed by two Romanian entrepreneurs, Dan Marculescu and Vlad Bomboe, who now run Fullscreen Digital, a company that is continuously developing new innovative ways of using location intelligence not just for retail marketing, but also for other purposes.

BR spoke to co-founder Dan Marculescu about what the company does, how this new technology can help digital marketing blend in with physical retail and how it can contribute to making our cities smarter and more efficient.

What is location intelligence and how can it be used by retailers?

In essence, location intelligence is the end product of a process that blends together raw location data, algorithms, machine learning and social sciences. It is actionable knowledge that can help companies scientifically back their decisions related to products and customers.

Just by moving we generate data related to our device’s position in a given space (indoors in our case). This is location data and it can help retailers to better manage their visitor traffic. Actually, we see a lot of companies focusing of providing traffic monitoring solutions and calling it location intelligence, but we consider location data only the beginning of the process.

Once the data is organised and structured it evolves into insights about shopping behaviour, which is a major topic of interest for every marketing department. The next step is to load the insights with meaning, using machine learning and social sciences, and thus transforming data in intelligence.

“Big data and predictive behaviour got a lot of bad press, but the truth is that, when used correctly, they are invaluable marketing and advertisement tools that benefit both companies and their audiences.”

As a product, Fullscreen Digital’s indoor location intelligence solutions are a suite of software apps that retail property investors and retail innovators can use to automate marketing processes and campaigns (thus decreasing costs), target their specific audiences that are relevant for their strategies with hyper-precise accuracy. And most important, create a new income stream with mobile ads from other advertisers looking to engage with the visitors coming in the spaces retailer property investors control.

By using our indoor location intelligence solution, our partners have already improved their reach and engagement with customers while, at the same time, customers receive ads that have high relevancy, only through channels through which they are willing to communicate.

We cannot ignore the big elephant in the room, though. Because of the Cambridge Analytica – Facebook scandal, big data and predictive behaviour got a lot of bad press, but the truth is that, when used correctly, they are invaluable marketing and advertisement tools that benefit both companies and their audiences.

It is clear though that regulation is required and we see the GDPR as a welcomed step in the right direction. At the end of the day, ideally, tech should help strengthen the fabric of society, not tear people apart.

Location data, especially indoor data, will disrupt the advertisement industry as we know it today and it will benefit the consumer the most, by freeing them of the non-stop assault of stimuli fighting to grab their attention – maybe I am overly optimistic, but I think that 10 years from now we will no longer see those irrelevant billboards in public spaces anymore.

Besides marketing in retail, in what other ways can your technology be used?

We are already putting our tech to good use through a mobile app for Public Safety. This is a project in cooperation with multiple companies in Romania that understand and support the way our technology will greatly improve the efficiency of utility services in indoor environments.

The project will most probably launch at the end of this year and you will be able to find out more information about it in the second half of the year, when we will be ready to communicate its purpose.

Does implementation of location-based marketing require a large investment by retailers?

This is actually one of our competitive advantages: while we see a lot of the players in the industry focusing on developing different types of location hardware, which for a retailer means additional investment in tech that will start to deprecate the moment it is installed, Fullscreen Digital focuses on offering an integrated indoor location intelligence software solution, that works over the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth infrastructure already in place.

By applying this approach to all components, we can basically deploy and run a complete offline & online digital ecosystem for shopping malls, hypermarkets and retail networks with an ultra-low pricing that uses indoor location intelligence to create even further big savings in the marketing & advertising budgets.

How did you get the idea for Surround IPS? Is the technology developed from scratch?

We got the idea for the Surround Indoor Positioning System by analysing market opportunities related to the future of marketing and advertising, fields in which I have 14 years of expertise. I think indoor location data will have a much higher impact than GPS and outdoor data currently have on the way businesses work. So our bet is in this direction.

Surround IPS is a proprietary technology that relies on sensor fusion: a blend of positioning data correlated between the phone’s multitude of sensors.

fullscreen digital founders
The founders of Fullscreen Digital – Dan Marculescu & Vlad Bomboe

Who else has access to the users’ data besides retailers? How do companies manage to convince people to allow access to their location at all times solely for marketing purposes?

Unlike Google or Facebook, we give retailers full ownership over their data. So, no other entities would have access to their data.

Getting permission from customers to use their indoor location data is not only about marketing purposes. This is always about the value they get back. It can be about the loyalty rewards or the ease of navigation in indoor environments.

How big of an impact do you think IoT devices will have in the near future?

The impact is already here and it’s massive, literally: the total size of all global data is estimated to be around 20 zetta bytes (a guy named David Trainer translated this into something easier to grasp: 80 Greats Walls of China built from 64 gigabyte iPhones).

The increasing number of interconnected devices is already flooding us with data, but most of it, estimated to be at 90%, is unstructured, therefore making it of poor quality and not easily understood by machines. I count this as one of the biggest challenges in developing advanced artificial intelligence.

From a consumer point of view, as a person living in a congested city like Bucharest, with poor outdoor and indoor infrastructure, one of the scenarios I am looking forward to involves a smart city able to communicate with all the existing indoor and outdoor environments in order to improve traffic flow predictively.

What is your role in the Alba Iulia Smart City project? Will you go to other cities in Romania to help them become “smart”?

Fullscreen Digital provided the descriptive and the predictive analysis of the tourists’ and residents’ traffic, which allows targeted marketing, based on behaviour patterns. Our solution helps the local administration better understand behaviours and offers a tool to increase their engagement through relevant marketing.

Of course, we are looking forward to working together with other cities from Romania.

How many people work in the company? What are your plans for the next few years, as technology quickly becomes more embedded in everything we do?

We are a small, flexible company, with around 30 dedicated professionals, with backgrounds in marketing, technology, real estate and data sciences. The next step for us is to accelerate the development of the company and to access new markets.

What we aim to achieve is building a Romanian intelligence product company (where intelligence stands for brain power) that can compete on the global data technology market. And our key ingredient so far is attracting the best brains from the fields relevant to our mission.

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