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Malls are crowded spaces. Filled with screaming babies, flashy ads and squeaky shopping trolleys, finding that right pair of jeans on sale can be a real mission. And grabbing the attention of an average roaming customer is a huge challenge for retailers.
Unlike a few online shopping outlets, a new app called GeoMall is not trying to replace the shopping centre. Instead it’s gearing up to implement a new technology to make the shopping experience more seamless and fruitful.
By using pieces of hardware called iBeacon, GeoMall founder Thabang Mashiloane says that he’s found a way to leverage the much-talked about power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to give customers, retailers and storeowners a communication channel.
iBeacon is a low-cost, low-power in-door positioning transmitter that can prompt smartphone and other devices to do something when in close proximity. In GeoMall’s case, this would be pushing a coupon to a user’s phone when they walk pass a gelato store or directing them to aisle where all the specials are.
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Once the app is downloaded, you’ll get a list of stores that you can choose to follow. Once at the mall, you’ll then get information from these stores including real-time navigation, coupon, specials and so on.
On the retailer’s side, there’s a CMS dashboard. This is used by the store manager who’ll get up-to-date analytics about customer behaviour. Moreover, property owners can use the app to help shed light on where the customers are coming from and understand their traffic.
To illustrate, Mashiloane explains how “Suzie” finds her way though a mall:
Suzie drives into the parking lot of the mall and receives a notification on her phone that says “Welcome to Nelson Mandela Square”. A notification pops up to let her know that Levi’s is having a sale on this fancy pair of jeans at this corner store, next to the food court. She taps on the notification, which then gives her all the product information — from the size, colour, cost as well as a map on how to get to the actual product. The map will navigate Suzie to the specific aisle in the store. Once she’s found the item, she can checkout using GeoPay or Apple Pay — which GeoMall is also considering — without taking out her wallet.
“Last year I started building the app and the CMS from scratch and showed it to my colleagues,” Mashiloane tells us. “Since then we have approached a few malls in Johannesburg, like Sandton Mall and Nelson Mandela Square, which have been very keen to back the idea.”
The revenue model has a three-pronged approach:
- The subscription model where the retailer gets charged. There are three packages, ranging from R1 000 to R5 000 per month. It all depends on the kind of features the retailer wants to get, like push notifications, navigation to the specific product, geopay.
- The GeoPay feature — a payment platform which charges companies 2% per transaction.
- The third stream of revenue would come from selling the actual Beacons directly to the retailers.
According to a report by the Treasury, the number of shopping centres in Gauteng, South Africa increased from 111 in 2002 to 634 in 2010. This massive growth has also prompted the country’s Council of Shopping Centres to estimate the industry to be one of the largest in the world, beating the likes of Germany and Australia with the amount of shopping centres over 2 000 square metres.
Getting off the ground
To get initial traction, the Johannesburg-based startup has been working with events like Maker Faire Africa where visitors received push notifications on relevant content while walking around the conference centre. Mashiloane notes that this trial didn’t go as well as they anticipated because of load-shedding issues.
Mashiloane has bootstrapped the startup through Vsites Digital Agency, which he founded back in 2010 after finishing his BTech degree in IT at the London School of Business Management.
Asked about where his inspiration for GeoMall came from, he says that he’s always been frustrated by the fact that most retailers are still forced to deal with expensive, traditional means of advertising. “There are about 200 stores in your average mall. A retailer will generally pay around R20 000 per month for a digital ad,” he adds. “GeoMall is introducing a whole new advertising model to this industry.”
Mashiloane explains that IoT is beginning to drastically reduce the amount of effort people need to do simple day-to-day tasks. “It’s automating activities in a cloud space which can provide important data.”
GeoMall has been pitching the concept to a lot of big names including some venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, but the company is still waiting for the product to go beyond the prototype stage.
“We are currently busy finalising the prototype,” he says. “In terms of our customers, we spoke to most of the brands around Nelson Mandela Square like Woolworths and Stuttafords. All of them are very excited and waiting for us to start rolling out the product.”
“We’re exploring most emerging markets like China and even Singapore where the mall culture is massive. We’re also looking at other facilities other than malls like airports, events and stadiums,” he says. Asked about the competitors, Thabang says that a lot of the companies are still very traditional and that the market seems fragmented.
GeoMall is expected to officially launch at the end of this month.