March 13, 2012, 3:19 PM

Getting an inside deal on a smartphone

A new location-based service makes it easier to send offers indoors.

Lead Photo

Consumers inside malls can use the app to find deals and locate stores.

Shoppers inside malls may have an easier time finding offers from retailers on their smartphones with the advent of an location-based service from Wifarer Inc. designed to work indoors, such as at enclosed shopping malls.

Because many consumers use smartphones to shop, many retailers want ways to ensure their store locations, products and special offers appear when consumers search for products or stores on their mobile phones. One way to do that is to tap into a location-based service that places advertisements and offers within apps consumers use on their smartphones. While such services mostly work well outdoors, they may not work inside shopping malls where a cellular signal may not be as strong as it is outside.

Wifarer designed its service to work indoors using Wi-Fi networking technology. Malls install Wifarer software and connect it to their Wi-Fi networks. Consumers load the Wifarer Android app, which typically will be rebranded with the shopping center’s name, onto their smartphones. Then, when a consumer enters the mall she opens the app on her phone and is prompted to join the mall’s free Wi-Fi network. As she walks by stores, offers pop up on the screen. A tap on the offer reveals the details. A consumer may redeem the offer by showing it on her smartphone at checkout. Retailers also can display video and audio clips via the offer button.

“We want to heighten the discovery experience in a venue,” says Philip Stanger, Wifarer founder and CEO.

The free app also features a routing function to help the consumer find a store inside the shopping center. Consumers also can bookmark their favorite locations.

In order to deliver the right offer as the consumer walks by a particular store, Wifarer’s software tracks each individual using the app via radio frequency fingerprinting, Stanger says. Smartphones have radio chips inside them that emit signals, and Wifarer’s software can combine that with other data, such as the phone’s distance from a Wi-Fi antenna, to determine the shopper’s location to  within four to five feet, he says. None of the information collected is personally identifiable, and the only action Wifarer tracks is whether a consumer redeems an offer.

The Shops at Prudential Center in Boston is the first shopping center to use the technology. Initially, the center is offering 57 unique discounts, says Laura Sesody, marketing director at the venue. After the service’s official launch later this spring, she anticipates promoting it via the center’s web site and social media outlets.

The service will “give our retail tenants a new channel to reach consumers while they’re shopping,” Sesody says. “Our shoppers will be able to navigate the shopping center with ease, and get location-aware deals simultaneously, saving them money and time.”

Wifarer is designed for venue operators, like a shopping center owner. That’s because building owners typically want to manage such services, Stanger says. But retailers set their own promotions. Wifarer makes money from selling advertising within the app and from licensing its software.

Wifarer requires no special hardware for clients, such as mall operators, other than what is necessary to set up a Wi-Fi network if one does not exist.

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