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.”