Simpler shopping with iBeacons

Introducing Aisle Help: a retail concept that uses the iOS7 iBeacons protocol to reduce confusion and cognitive

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.

Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice.

And so then, a quote from Barry Schwartz’s seminal book The Paradox of Choice perfectly sets the scene of this thought.

To begin, let me pose to you the current state of conventional grocery shopping.

You go into a grocery store and you’re instantly faced with so many options. You want shampoo - there are hundreds of different shampoos to choose from, each offering something supposedly different. What do you do, especially when you’re bored of your current product?

And you want cereal. But with so many different and conflicting cereal offers being thrown in your face, how do you arrive at a decision? You’re having to constantly compare prices and products between seemingly limitless granolas and porridges. It becomes a difficult, unrelenting task.

So at the end of it all, with so many decisions to make, even with a simple shopping list, you may well feel exhausted and unconfident in your purchases, making sub-optimal decisions throughout the process. You may even feel slightly concerned that you’ve been taken advantage of somewhere along the way.

This isn’t right. But this is right now. And we can do better.

What we’re solving

This concept focuses on solving the following consumer problems experienced in large supermarkets:

  • I’m faced with too much meaningless choice in-store
  • I can’t easily locate the product in the aisle
  • I make poor purchase decisions
  • Shopping takes a long time
  • My shopping list is dumb

The concept

Always a fan of puns here at ribot, we’ve called the concept ’Aisle Help’. Check out the video we put together…

Here’s how it works

Step 1

Lindsay walks into the store and checks Aisle Help (AH) for her shopping list.

Step 2

Because we’re utilising iBeacons, AH knows where she is. We know which store she’s in, and where in the store she is, down to 10cm.

Step 3

As a result, the shopping list reorders itself so the items and their respective aisles are ordered by their proximity to you, closest at the top.

Step 4

You walk to aisle 1. Again, because of iBeacons, we can tell that you’re in Aisle 1. We update the UI accordingly, and recommend you a single product, based on a number of different permutations of the following:

  • Your purchase history
  • What your friends are buying
  • What time of the day / day of the week it is
  • Seasonal modifiers
  • Any appropriate offers for you based on demographics / spending patterns

Fundamentally, we limit cognitive overload that you’d otherwise experience through having to make a choice amongst the 100s of inappropriate products on the shelf in front of you. We reduce choice to 1-2 highly relevant products.

We also show you where on the aisle that product is located. Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, is already able to tell you product location. We’re using that same data, but showing it to you in a more simple, visual way.

Step 5

I then simply pluck that product off the shelf and continue to the next aisle in the list. As I reach the next aisle, the UI updates accordingly and the appropriate products are shown for that aisle’s shopping list item. If I do want more products, I simply do a horizontal swipe. I’m then shown another recommendation based on our same algorithm.

Let’s go back over those problems…

So how does Aisle Help help?

I’m faced with too much meaningless choice in-store

We reduce choice to only show a small selection of recommendations that are relevant to you.

I don’t know where along the aisle that product is

We tell you where exactly that product is along that massive aisle, along with your current position along it.

I don’t always feel confident in my decisions

Because we’re basing these recommendations on your purchasing behaviour, and that of your friends, you can be more confident that you’re not being pushed something that isn’t suitable.

Shopping takes a long time

We speed up the shopping process dramatically, by pre-empting your task with an appropriate choice. When you get to that aisle, you know what to buy and where to pick it up.

My shopping list is dumb

The shopping list is now contextual based on both macro-location (store) and micro-location (aisle). It knows what you need, and adjusts itself accordingly.

Limitations / best use cases

The concept does have certain limitations / requirements for best use

Best for larger stores where the problem is rifeSome degree of specificity required around shopping list item string valueRequires structured use of iBeacons throughout store (business investment)Requires product positioning in-store to be defined and documented via an API (though you could use more iBeacons here tolimit this need to some extent)Requires pre-existing customer relationship / data in order to work wellRequires user to have iPhone 4S+ / Android 4.3

Wrapping up…

And that’s it. As you can tell, we’re really really excited by iBeacons. We’re sure that tech like this will shake up retail over the next 5 years or so, despite its current iOS leanings.

Fundamentally, we’re fed up of the rubbish experiences we’re currently having to deal with in-store. There is a better way. We’re hopeful that Aisle Help moves us some way towards that. We’d love to get your feedback on Aisle Help, how it could be improved, or what other implementations of iBeacons (as well as Estimote; Paypal Beacon etc) there could be to make peoples’ lives simpler.


With thanks to:

  • Ben for putting together the video 
  • Tara for fleshing out the UX 
  • Lindsay for letting us nab her for the filming 
  • Luis for researching the iBeacons protocol 
  • Infinity Foods in Brighton for letting us shoot the film there and giving us free pizza