Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Better Shopping With Location-Based Reminders

Among the dozens of new features Apple was showing this week in its preview of iOS 5, there was one of particular economic significance. This was the ability to associate reminders with places.

We’ve long been able to get alerts and notifications at specific times. This is the idea, after all, behind the 20th-century alarm clock. It has not been so automatic to get notifications based on location — but that is the nature of many of the reminders we need. Most of the things we want to remember to do are things we can do only in particular places. You can make a separate list of tasks for each place you go to, but then you still have to remember that the list exists. How many times have you told yourself, “The next time I go to _____, I need to remember to _____” — and then forgotten a few times?

Making the connection automatic with place-specific reminders will be just as valuable as the time-specific reminders many of us already rely on. As Apple suggests:

Since Reminders can be location based, you’ll get an alert as soon as you pull into the supermarket parking lot.

The iPhone and other position-aware iOS devices will be able to provide reminders at specific places by linking the reminder feature to the location tracking that the device does already. No doubt this ability will become an essential feature in other portable devices as soon as people come to depend on it on the iPhone.

With fuel becoming more expensive, it is becoming more important to conduct errands efficiently. One way to do this is to plan errands in detail. You can write out an itinerary for errands, and connect this to a list of things to do at each place along the way. Location-based reminders have the potential to provide most of the same efficiencies even when things are not going according to plan. Perhaps you are going by a store because you left a party early or because your regular route home is blocked by traffic troubles. It’s nice to have your phone remind you that you have things to do in this place that you hadn’t expected to be.

It is hard to say whether location-based reminders will increase or decrease consumer spending at first. Reminders will help ensure that shoppers buy the things they especially want. That will tend to increase spending. But reminders will also reduce the number of shopping trips. That is efficient, but it results in less spending on fuel, and fewer impulse purchases. In the long run, though, location-based reminders will result in more successful consumers, and a more successful economy.