Geolocation in Mobile Apps: Dos and Don'ts

We walk you through the best practices of creating powerful location-based services for mobile apps and explore typical development mistakes undermining user acceptance.   

The recent years saw a boom of geolocation-enabled apps. From weather forecasting to navigation to ride-hailing to fitness tracking to dating — this versatile technology became a centerpiece of dozens of world-famous mobile solutions, enabling real-time convenient service that gets users hooked on. Geolocation has also disrupted the marketing landscape, enabling brands to fine-tune their outreach and drive location-relevant promotions.   

Against this backdrop, more and more SMBs and large companies across industries turn to mobile application development to harness the technology and thus reinforce the value proposition of their branded mobile software. But no matter how straightforward geolocation services appear to be, their integration into consumer-oriented mobile apps can be no easy feat due to technical nuances, location data security, and customer privacy concerns. 

In cooperation with Iflexion’s software engineers, we formulated actionable guidelines for augmenting branded mobile apps with value-adding location-based features and outlined common geolocation adoption pitfalls with ways to avoid them.

Integrating Geolocation the Right Way

Choose the Suitable Tech Stack

The first step in securing the efficiency of your location-based feature is to find the geolocation technology to fit your purpose. Receiving a discount coupon ten minutes later after passing your store or unsuccessfully trying to locate your new shop following a poorly mapped route, your customer is likely to get annoyed and start questioning your competence. What is more, the wrong technology choice can lead to mistargeted ad impressions. In their 2019 State of Location Advertising report, Location Sciences analyzed 500 million location-based mobile ad impressions delivered in the UK and US in 2019 and found out that companies wasted up to 65% of their advertising budget. 

GPS is the most mainstream geolocation system that leverages the data from the satellite network to track device position in time with a decent 5-meter accuracy. Brands tend to rely on GPS to set up a virtual perimeter, or a geofence, around their brick-and-mortar stores that trigger an action when app users get in its range. Apart from this, the technology will be a great option for store location, delivery tracking, and route mapping.      

GPS is, however, notoriously inefficient indoors. In most cases, satellite signals are not powerful enough to pass through walls and roofs, which leads to low service reliability and poor location tracking accuracy. 

Thus, in case you aim your location-based services for exclusively in-store use, iBeacons will prove a more viable alternative. Small devices powered by the Bluetooth Low Energy technology, they can detect a customer’s mobile phone location precisely down to centimeters. Relying on iBeacon app development, brands can offer customers location-specific promotions as they pass a certain product section or show the detailed route to a particular department.  

Another way for brands to target proximity ads is through a mobile device IP address. Denoting simply the place where a device connects to the internet, IP geolocation is less granular than GPS, detecting user position with a precision of several kilometers. This makes IPs unsuitable for hyperlocal targeting, but still applicable for campaigns aimed at broad areas like city districts. On the upside, IP geolocation is not susceptible to location spoofing, unlike GPS signals that, as Location Sciences reported, happen to be fraudulent in 36% of the cases, wasting a sizable chunk of brands’ advertising budget.

Get User Permission

While being more than willing to share location information in exchange for a benefit, people have also learned to be discerning when it comes to permissions. In 2018, the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation, making users’ explicit consent to location tracking mandatory. Although the US and many other countries regrettably do not have similar comprehensive data privacy laws, their citizens nevertheless expect the same “good manners” from tech companies, and the news about apps secretly tracking user location is usually met with public outrage.

Mobile device user data sharing for select benefits

Whether your business is EU-based or not, asking for users’ consent to access, track, and process location information will enhance your brand’s credibility and help avoid legal troubles down the line.

When obtaining user consent to track their location, proper timing and reasonable grounds are crucial. Instead of pestering users with permission requests upon their first-time app launch, make sure the request appears only when they access a location-based feature. If the app needs location data for several purposes, make sure to ask permission for each separately. Also, supply your message with enough context into why the app needs this information so that the user could appreciate the benefit and make a conscious choice.  

Despite the reasoning, some customers may still deny the app access to their location data. In this case, you can try to prompt them once again (this option, however, is available only for Android apps) and risk losing a customer. Another option that’s less damaging to user retention is to offer a viable alternative to location tracking. The Mango app does just that:

Mango geolocation app

Reach Out to People, Not Devices

Geolocation data is the cornerstone of real-time customer engagement strategies. Knowing about an app user’s movements, marketers can pinpoint the moment when a promotional offer can prove most relevant to them. But even if exciting, this location-based personalization can’t resonate with customers unless in-app communication and experience are adjusted to user needs and wishes. Otherwise you risk losing up to 40% of customers due to poor personalization, according to Gartner’s 2018 State of Personalization report. 

To lay the groundwork for one-to-one location-based marketing, you need to know who your customers are exactly. Today, companies have access to a plethora of mobile analytics tools that can be integrated into the brand app to capture user demographics data and engagement metrics. To render customer profiles more nuanced, use customer insights from other touchpoints.       

Geolocation data can also be leveraged to better grasp customers’ lifestyles and habits. However, marketers need to tread carefully when creating their promotions based on these assumptions lest they come off as intrusive and insensitive. A positive example is Urban Outfitters’ campaign that targeted push notifications promoting party dresses to young female customers who have recently been to a nightclub or a bar. 

With sufficient information at your disposal, you can proceed with segmenting your customers based on their common characteristics and gauging each group’s needs and priorities. To streamline the processing of vast data volumes and improve the accuracy and granularity of the analysis, brands can hire AI consultants to build a smart decision-making system. This can help craft promotional materials for location-based marketing campaigns that are guaranteed to compel their audience.

Ensure Location Data Security

For consumers, sharing personal details with brands comes at the price of ongoing anxiety for their privacy. Among various types of personal data, the concern over location security ranks fourth, even higher than contents of chat correspondence or search history, found McKinsey in their survey on data collection and privacy. Given the risk for physical security this data poses when in the wrong hands, this worry is understandable. In this context, adequate location data safeguards are the way to retain customers’ trust and stand out among competitors.

Consumer privacy and protection concerns

When building the geolocation feature, take steps to make sure the integration won’t undermine mobile app security. The IT team needs to adhere to a security-first approach and supply source code with relevant data security controls. After the development is complete, it is advisable to conduct security testing to ensure the service does not have loopholes and protection gaps that can cause data loss. 

Moreover, before gathering and putting location-based data to use, you should revise your data management strategy and make certain it aligns with regulations on geolocation data processing. In case your current strategy falls short, it needs to be updated. Also, with the growing number of customer data leaks attributed to insider hacking, it will be appropriate to establish company-wide identity management controls and allow access to customer data storage only to those working directly with it. 

Switching from on-premises to cloud storage is another effective way to strengthen customer data security. Cloud providers employ advanced security arrangements like encryption and event logging to ensure all-round protection of constantly increasing volumes of data. When looking for your future cloud storage solution, take into consideration not only pricing, scalability, and ease of use, but also whether it adheres to the GDPR or other data privacy regulations you are subjected to.

How to ensure consumers adopt your location-based app? By addressing the issues of user privacy and consent, data security, and adequate experience personalization.
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Mistakes to Avoid

Applying Location Data for Unapproved Purposes

Another reason why customers struggle to share personal data with brands is the lack of transparency about its further use. In the survey of US adults’ attitudes towards privacy, Pew Research Center discovered that 81% of the respondents feel they have little to no control over the data companies collect about them.

User control over data

Their worst fears are constantly fueled by a steady stream of headline-making investigations of tech companies misusing and selling customers’ personal data. Last year, a group of researchers revealed that over a thousand Android apps on Google Play were harvesting location data without permission, even when users explicitly denied them access. 

The loss of customer trust is irrevocable. According to the 2019 Tealium Consumer Data Privacy Report, 85% of customers will not forgive a company for misusing their personal data and stop buying from it. To make matters worse, such a company is highly likely to be fined and, in the worst-case scenario, have to face charges. All things considered, the price of trying to use geolocation data for purposes other than stated, even if they are not illegal, may prove too high. 

Instead of cutting corners, invest into sparking users' interest to share it with you willingly. As you equip your customer-oriented mobile app with a location-tracking technology, it is your responsibility to educate users on how you apply, manage, store, and protect the collected data and make it clear you will not use it without their permission. When you want to earn users’ trust from the get-go, make sure to create a privacy policy that is easy to understand for a non-specialist.

Going Overboard with Personalization

Sharing their geolocation data and personal details, customers expect rewards and individualized service in return. However, in an effort to drive hyper-relevant promotions or fully tailor app experience to user needs and interests, companies tend to cross the line and give off the “Big Brother” vibe. 

In the age when privacy is becoming a luxury, vexing ads that stalk you are understandably deemed as far worse than generic ads. According to the 2019 Privacy & Personalization report by Smarter HQ, 63% of customers would cease buying goods or services from a company that takes marketing personalization too far. 

For your geolocation-enabled app to promote brand loyalty, not to turn customers off, you need to learn how to be helpful without being nosey. First and foremost, make sure your customer experience personalization tools take into account the context of location data before leveraging it for promotion. For example, a customer will be fine with receiving a discount coupon from one store after they have visited the competitor’s location, but is highly likely to be offended with wellness tips or fitness product recommendations after visiting a weight loss professional.    

Another helpful tactic for proving less intrusive is to wait for the right place and time to engage a customer. Instead of bombarding them with discount messages each time they are in the vicinity of your store, remind them about yourself in a less intrusive way like via email and reserve push notifications for when the customer is browsing your store and is in the right mindset for shopping. 

On the whole, try to use push notifications in moderation. Even though being perfectly suited for location-based engagement, this method has come to be considered 74% creepier than any other media, states the Smarter HQ’s Privacy & Personalization report. 

Last but not least, users need to have exclusive control over their communication with brands, so retail apps should provide an opportunity to opt out of any type of engagement.

Limiting your customers’ control over their location data and sending creepy marketing messages are both sure ways to drive them away from your brand.

Geolocation in Mobile Apps: The Driver of User Convenience and Personalization

Owing to customers’ growing need for real-time service and communication, location-enabled service can prove a powerful marketplace differentiator for your brand. Properly prototyped, developed, and integrated into an application, the feature can facilitate store wayfinding, supply users with relevant content, drive personalized product recommendations and promotions, and tailor app experience to the location context.  

However, working their way around to maximize the value of geolocation for their apps, brands risk making blunders that can cause their good intentions to backfire and drive customers away instead of in. Following the recommendations listed above, companies can successfully navigate typical pitfalls associated with the geolocation technology setup and deliver a unique and value-adding feature to their mobile app users.

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