FEATURE4 April 2013

On the geofence

Allen Vartazarian, uSamp’s resident ‘mobile guru’, explores the research potential of throwing virtual fences around real-world locations.


The latest mobile development that should be of interest to the market research industry is geofencing. In layman’s terms, geofencing is a technology that creates a boundary or ‘virtual fence’ around a defined geographic location. By having a geofence set up, enabled smartphones can recognise when a person enters or exits this virtual fence. Geofences can be set around literally any location in the physical world, such as a store, an out-of-home ad unit, a city park or any latitude/longitude.

A recent report from ABI Research found that the market for geofencing tools alone could reach nearly $300 million in 2017.

But why is it important for market research?

Geofencing technology opens up a world of research and verification that was not possible in the past. It allows researchers to tap into the real-world experience of the consumer. This is different from the way businesses have gathered intelligence in the past – from online surveys, phone interviews and direct mail campaigns. These techniques all rely heavily on respondent recall, which can leave room for bias if the respondent’s experience is not front-of-mind.

Geofencing can be used to trigger mobile surveys and alerts, which can only be completed within a set radius of a business, say. This allows insights to be captured from the moment a customer enters the business, enabling a shopper – for example – to accurately relay their in-store experience with minimal bias.

The technology allows market researchers to alert a panelist as soon as they arrive at or leave a location. With complementing technologies, marketers can have consumers answer several questions while the experience is still fresh. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store, or a newly-released movie, geofencing can help gather feedback as close to the time of experience as possible to ensure the accuracy of feedback.

Here’s some other examples of how geofencing could be used in market research:

  • Out-of-home ad effectiveness: In the past, advertisers have not been able to accurately measure out-of-home ad exposure and influence. By setting up geofences around businesses and billboards, researchers can effectively compare store visitation of exposed consumers to those that were not exposed, giving the first truly objective way to measure OOH ad efficacy across any audience.
  • Natural shoppers – pre-/intra-/post-shopping engagement: With geofencing technology and mobile surveys, it is possible for brands or marketers to naturally recruit shoppers on site, either before, during or after the shopping experience, helping to replace expensive in-person intercepts or shop-alongs. Consumers can be engaged to take a survey at any point during their retail visit, or can be asked to do a “mobile task,” such as finding a product, snapping a photo, scanning a product barcode or recording a video. These tasks use geofencing technology to verify when a consumer is inside a participating location, becoming the eyes and ears of the company. They can snap photos of products on the shelves and upload them directly to an application where the data can be available for real-time analysis.

With geofencing, market researchers and retailers can leverage the proliferation of smartphone and mobile technology and open up a new world of data that has been previously difficult to unlock. It enables researchers to dig deeper and increases the intimacy between researcher and consumer by giving them on-demand, in-person access to consumers during the decision-making process.

So, how would you put geofencing to work?

Allen Vartazarian is the director of product, mobile, at uSamp