Start-up aims for in-store search

Google and any number of rivals have got online search covered. Evincii wants to profit by taking the idea to brick-and-mortar stores.

An Evincii in-store search kiosk.
An Evincii in-store search kiosk. Evincii

OK, so Google dominates the market for online search and accompanying advertisements. But what about people trying to find what they need in a store, not online?

A start-up called Evincii, which announced its technology this week, hopes to capitalize on the idea. It offers in-store computer kiosks that can help customers figure out what products to buy and where in a crowded aisle to find them.

The kiosks present choices to the customer, gradually refining search results and displaying ads of relevant products. The kiosks are installed in 135 Longs Drugs stores with the plan to expand to 200 by the end of the year. Major national retailers "will sign up soon," the company said.

Chief Executive Charlie Koo gives the example of a customer who wants to grapple with the unpleasantness of finding cold medicine. "There are 800 different products out there," he said. Exactly 13 of them deal just with cough and a fever. "I guarantee you that when you get through this process, every one of those 13 are the right ones," he said.

The kiosk directs people toward a product's shelf location.
The kiosk directs people toward a product's shelf location. Evincii

Installing the kiosks is free to the stores. Evincii charges advertisers to show off their products--the kiosk screens can show videos as well as a full view of the box, including the fine print--and splits revenue with the retailers.

The company, newly emerged from stealth mode this week, was founded in 2005 and now has 21 employees. We'll see how well the business scales as the company spreads beyond the pharmacy area.

But it's an interesting idea. It's relatively easy to track how well ads tied to Web searches convert into sales leads or purchases for some big-ticket items sold over Web sites, but inexpensive consumer packaged goods are another matter. Who clicks on an online ad to buy beef jerky?

With consumer products, advertising techniques tend toward "impressions" from display ads that are designed to generate interest in a particular brand. It's hard to track the financial payback of impression-based advertisements, but retailers can more directly measure the value of their advertising with the Evincii approach.

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