Mobile Maps Focus on Helping Lost Shoppers Find the Right Aisle

Photograph by Pete Saloutos

Tech companies are mapping the insides of stores to help smartphone users find where products are shelved.

While mobile maps have made it easy for people to find their way to a store or shopping mall, the options are limited once they’re inside. Now, a new breed of cartographers are venturing indoors to help consumers find where products are shelved.

One startup that develops interior maps for retailers is Point Inside, which recently raised $3.2 million from private investors, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Bellevue, Washington-based company plans to hire at least a dozen software engineers in the next three months as it rolls out two big retail partnerships and expands into grocery stores, said Chief Executive Officer Josh Marti.

“We’re in the middle of a big growth spurt,” he said.

Several other startups are focusing on the indoor market. Aisle411 partnered with Walgreens this summer to add interior maps for all 7,900 or so of the retailer’s U.S. stores. WifiSLAM, which taps into a smartphone’s various sensors for pinpointing a user’s precise location within buildings, raised $1 million.

Big companies are eyeing this area as well. Google has already mapped the insides of 10,000 museums and other locations. Last month, 22 companies, including Nokia, Samsung Electronics, Sony and Qualcomm, formed the In-Location Alliance to pool resources for developing indoor maps.

Advertisers and retailers are increasingly turning to mobile apps as a way to get shoppers to spend more when they’re at the stores. Some apps reward consumers just for walking in, while others may alert users to special deals or provide them with coupons.

“Retailers are going to need to be more connected with their customers by using mobile shopping apps,” said Doug Tudor, a San Mateo, California-based investor who put an undisclosed amount into Point Inside’s funding round. “How many times have I been in the checkout line and forgotten one thing, and you’re sprinting up and down the aisles?”

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