GPS for your Cheerios: Aisle411

Aisle411 launches today. As we've written previously, this iPhone app will locate items for you inside a store. Can't find the rice flour? The pipe wrench you need? An employee to help you find what you're looking for? Aisle411 is building databases of what's where in large retail stores.

Unfortunately, GPS and even in-building Wi-Fi geolocation isn't accurate enough to direct a user's phone directly to an item in a store, so Aisle411 is landmark-based. It'll tell you what aisle your desired item is in and which section. CEO Nathan Pettyjohn told me the app will take you to within about 4 feet of any item. From there it's up to you.

The service first will roll out in a few grocery stores in San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Jose, Calif., with more cities to follow. The company has been building systems to integrate with store stocking systems to keep its maps up to date. Unfortunately, it does not tie in to inventory systems. So users may still have experiences like the one I had with a clerk at the Whole Foods the other day: "Well, this is where the pine nuts would be. If we had them in stock. Sorry."

Pettyjohn says that when Aisle411 can get its hooks into a store's various inventory and logistics systems, it can provide extremely high accuracy on what's where. But even without integration, it can be helpful. Big retail chain stores have some design similarities, so combining chain generalizations with a rough map of the aisles and sections in a particular location can still make for a useful production location database. The app will also work in a few big hardware stores at launch, but these stores are only authorizing the app, not providing the deep hooks into their systems the way the initial grocery store partners are.

Revenues will come from an in-app coupon system and brand advertising; this is also the model of shopping list app, Grocery IQ, a potential partner. The company may also sell aggregate shopper behavior and analytics data to stores.

It's a useful idea, but unfortunately the team couldn't leave well enough alone, and it looks like they're jumping on the gamification and geolocation bandwagon in a way that will fuzz up the real utility of the service. The app will provide game mechanics along these lines, says Pettyjohn: "Say you're searching for bananas in a store. We might pop up a monkey badge." Also, if you're a frequent shopper at a location, you can become the "captain" of a store. Finally, you'll be able to Tweet, text, email, or Facebook your in-store finds to your friends. Pettyjohn has been studying Shopkick, clearly, but I do believe there's a big emotional engagement difference between shopping for gadgets and apparel (mainstays of Shopkick) and following a shopping list for groceries or hardware.

However, shoppers' helper apps, whether they're time savers like this one, social like Foursquare, or game-based like Shopkick, all exist because there's real money to be made by connecting offers from retailers with consumers in stores. If Aisle411 wants to dub me Captain Banana when I ask it to help me find something in the fruit aisle, I suppose that's not too steep a price to pay. … Read more

Retailers using Net to lure Black Friday shoppers

Looking to entice shoppers on Black Friday, retail companies are using e-mail, the Web, and social networks to spread the word about their hottest deals.

Recent results from the National Retail Federation's eHoliday survey found that more than half of the retailers polled will send out special e-mails to customers announcing Black Friday deals.

Around 31 percent will use their own Web sites to promote those deals, while 39 percent will hit shoppers through their Facebook pages, and 21 percent will tap into their Twitter feeds.

"The rules for Black Friday have changed significantly," NRF … Read more

Webroot's safety tips for holiday online shopping

With a new survey finding that half of the people polled plan to shop online for the holidays, security company Webroot offers some tips and tricks for staying safe in cyberspace.

Among the more than 2,660 consumers surveyed in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia by Webroot, 55 percent said they do plan to buy at least half of their holiday gifts online, a rise from 38 percent last year. But some of those people also plan to use search engines and public Wi-Fi to purchase those presents, activities that Webroot says could put buyers at risk.… Read more

Google launches shopping search

Google is launching a product peppered with plenty of fashion labels--but hardly a Google logo itself. Enter, a search site for fashion, accessories, and eventually other kinds of "soft goods" that Google claims can't be assessed by the text descriptions and basic product comparisons that fuel its Product Search engine.

It comes primarily from Google's acquisition of the technology and product team behind, a visual search engine. Munjal Shah, co-founder and CEO of Like, helped to push out the door based largely on technology that was already developing … Read more

Shopping on Google now includes inventory checks

As the retail industry anxiously awaits another holiday season amid difficult conditions, Google is also hoping to attract shoppers with new search features.

Over the next several days Google plans to introduce several new features to Google Shopping, the product search category of its site. As detailed by CNET earlier this summer, the idea is to blend online and offline shopping by providing information such as the location of local stores and whether a product is in stock at a retail store, said Sameer Samat, director of product management.

Starting today, Google users will see two new links on search-results … Read more

Get a sneak peek at Black Friday ads

Black Friday. The two words that cause palpitations in the hearts of bargain-hunters everywhere. They might as well call it National Cheapskate Day and be done with it. (No? Then you probably won't like my Rally to Restore Cheapness idea, either.)

As you probably know, in recent years Black Friday has evolved in weird and unexpected ways. First came Cyber Monday, online stores' answer to what was once a strictly brick-and-mortar affair.

Then came the Black Friday preview sites, which managed to snag "leaked" ads weeks in advance so shoppers could better plan their early-morning line-storming.

This … Read more

Giftmeister: A shopping tool for techies

It may be hard to believe that it's already November, but the 2010 holiday shopping season is just about upon us. With that in mind, Iron Horse Interactive has launched Giftmeister, an online social shopping tool that should be of particular interest to CNET readers.

Rather than focusing on just any old gifts, Giftmeister aims to help users find, purchase, and give tech products. The service offers a catalog of more than 225,000 gadgets, with live pricing from both online and brick-and-mortar retailers, such as Best Buy and Target. The tool also caters to shoppers on-the-fly with a … Read more

Zappos boots up iPad app

Zappos has laced up its first iPad app.

Dubbed Zappos Mobile, the free app provides the same service as the retailer's Web site. Users can sift through its selection of shoes and sneakers, choose their size, and buy the desired footwear from the app. The program also includes access to other Zappos products, including handbags, clothing, and accessories.

According to the company, purchases made through the application "are routed through's secure servers just as they are on the Web."

A company representative said that the Zappos iPad app had a "soft launch" … Read more

The best Internet Explorer security add-ons

Big things are brewing in the browser industry, which is good news for all Web denizens, regardless of your browser preference. At the same time, your current browser can probably be made safer through the proper application of the right security add-ons.

Top browsers in a state of continuous enhancement Google's Chrome browser continues to garner much of the attention of the computer press two years after its release--and for good reason. Frequent, automatic updates and a clutter-free interface are two of the many features that set Chrome apart from the competition, as Stephen Shankland describes in his DeepTech blog.… Read more

Macy's mirror lets your reflection try on clothes

Clothes shoppers wanting to experience the 21st-century version of dress-up have until November to try on the new Macy's Magic Fitting Room in the retail chain's New York's Herald Square flagship store.

The company is showing off a 72-inch mirror display that enables you to superimpose clothing on your reflection. The mirror features a multitouch screen that lets you select items such as tops, dresses, bottoms, and coats. After making a choice, the item covers your reflection, making it look like you're actually wearing the garb. Swimming in that shirt? Simply touch the mirror to take … Read more