Shopkick makes foot traffic accurate—and rewarding

September 16, 2010 | Robert Scoble

The next era of mobile app developers aim to completely change and personalize an offline experience. Shopkick hopes to revolutionize shopping—by rewarding you just for walking in the door of a retailer. CEO and co-founder Cyriac Roeding calls Shopkick’s focus on turning offline stores into interactive worlds “a truly mobile use case. It’s an idea that wouldn’t make any sense without a phone.”

Offline stores have a great conversion rate—much better than online shopping. So for retailers, attracting foot traffic is a top priority. Shopkick aims to get people to walk through the door, and then give them “kickbucks” that they can redeem for discounts, or donate to charity. “It’s the physical equivalent of an online click,” says Roeding. “Google built a pretty nice business off of paying for clicks. What if you could pay for foot traffic? That’s Shopkick.”

But to make it work, they needed extreme accuracy, better than the GPS accuracy of 50 to 1000 yards. So they created an ingenious little box, called the Shopkick Signal, which emits an inaudible audio sync that your phone can receive in the store, but not outside of it.

“We call this the first ‘presence technology’, versus GPS being ‘vicinity technology,’” says Roeding, “and that’s a huge difference. Because if you think about location, the massive value gets unlocked in the last feet.” The Signal’s sonic technology also helps Shopkick avoid the privacy issues that often come with location-based apps. Neither the box nor the satellite know where you are, and the sub-$100 box doesn’t need WiFi, just power.

How did they hit upon using an audio signal? They went through every input sensor of the phone, imagining how it could be used. “What can you do with a microphone?” asks Roeding. “You could do a signal you can’t hear. And then we tried that, and it was amazing. It’s literally like magic.”

More info:
Shopkick web site:
Shopkick blog:
Shopkick profile on CrunchBase:

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Tango September 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Seems they did consider Wifi, It need too much work on the part of the Retailers. And as someone who has helped a cafe set up a receipt based Wifi for its paying customers I can sympathize.

David Geller September 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Clever stuff and the iPhone UI looks great. Still not sure why they didn’t consider WiFi and unique SSIDs instead. It would have been cheaper – and provide better in-store coverage. And, I’m not even suggesting having the Wifi “beacons” connected to the Internet – just having them online and broadcasting a unique, VIN-like SSID. The app could then just scout for available access points and perform a lookup (maybe even selecting among similar beacons based upon signal strength).

Getting a WiFi radio to announce itself could be done for dollars. And, it might not freak out service animals visiting the store.

I will say, though, that the audio solution they’ve chosen does mean that they can provide their solution internationally without having to worry about RF licensing laws.

Other people, though, have used inaudible (to human) cues for broadcasting location.

No matter how it’s sliced – it looks like what they’ve done is very impressive and very polished.

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