Define the Actionable Context

When designing applications for use in a ‘smart’ retail environment, it’s especially important to identify and prioritize the information that defines a shoppers’ “context”. Take time to understand the full breadth of contextual information available to you and you’re far more likely to find opportunities to support the shoppers’ need at a particular moment in time.

1 Define Your Focus (What is ‘actionable’ to you?)

Pervasive technologies afford us the opportunity to collect a broad range of contextual information about shoppers, their environment, and the relationships they share. It is critically important to define which of this information is most actionable for the goal of your design. The resulting set of actionable contextual information should give you a greater understanding of the full context of use of your application and the user themselves.

As a general rule, actionable context should be persistent -- not a one-time occurrence -- unambiguous, multi-faceted, and give you a better understanding of the characteristics of the shopper.

Consider including some combination of spatial (physical & relational), temporal (time-based), psychological (emotional), social, and cultural context.

2 Define your methods for collecting this information

When designing pervasive, in-store retail applications, an actionable set of contextual information should contain a mix of profiled (customer supplied), sensed (captured by sensors), and derived (interpreted from multiple sources) data. We collect this information in two distinctly different ways:

A.Implicitly: This is generally captured through interaction with the environment. It’s primarily sensed by either hardware placed in the environment, the shoppers handheld device, or ideally both - in fact, the quality and accuracy of implicit data is much greater when it’s collected by multiple sensors and/or methods.

Several types of implicitly collected information you should consider when defining your actionable context are the shopper’s location, trajectory, cadence, and orientation in relation to the physical space as well as the relative location of objects or other shoppers within the space.

B. Explicitly: Explicit information, on the other hand, is captured based on deliberate and conscious actions of intent by the shopper. Anytime a shopper creates a shopping list, requests information about a product, rates a product, or deliberately reroutes their path through the store, they are providing explicit information.

As you can imagine, the combination of implicit and explicit contextual information opens a world of possibilities for designers of pervasive applications. The combination implicit and explicit information collected from a shoppers list, sensor-based in-store analytics, and a request for help because someone spilled a gallon of milk in aisle 3, can provide enough contextual information for an application to re-direct a shopper along a more optimal path. Making for a far more enjoyable shopping experience.

Actionable Context:

  • helps you understand the full-context of use and the user themselves
  • must be persistent and multi-faceted
  • can't be based on a single event
  • is relational - it's based on the proper interpretation of the relation among myriad discrete contextual data points
  • must be based on quality, unambiguous information
  • must be specific to your customers in relation to your store, establishment, or brand - you must know your customers before you can define the contextual information that is important to understanding them and designing for them
  • must help you define then adapt to the characteristics of the shopper

17 references informed this principle.

[1] Achilleos, Achilleas; Yang, Kun & Georgalas, Nektarios, Context modelling and a context-aware framework for pervasive service creation: A model-driven approach Pervasive and Mobile Computing, Vol. 6, No. 2, 281--296, April 2010.

[2] Adomavicius, Gediminas & Tuzhilin, Alexander, Context-aware recommender systems, Proceedings of the 2008 ACM conference on Recommender systems - RecSys '08, 335, 2008.

[3] Buttussi, Fabio & Chittaro, Luca, MOPET: a context-aware and user-adaptive wearable system for fitness training., Artificial intelligence in medicine , Vol. 42, No. 2, 153--63, February 2008.

[4] Chen, Yuanyuan, Research on user activity and context model based mobile context-aware interaction design method, Proceedings of the 13th international conference on Ubiquitous computing - UbiComp '11, 515, 2011.

[5] Darken, RP & Peterson, Barry, Spatial orientation, wayfinding, and representation., Handbook of virtual environments, 4083, 2002.

[6] Dobson, S & Nixon, P, More principled design of pervasive computing systems, Human Computer Interaction and Interactive Systems, 2-7, 2005.

[7] Li, Ian; Dey, AK & Forlizzi, Jodi, Understanding my data, myself: supporting self-reflection with ubicomp technologies, Conference on Ubiquitous computing, 2011.

[8] Lonsdale, P; Beale, R & Byrne, W, Using context awareness to enhance visitor engagement in a gallery space, People and Computers, 2006.

[9] Ohanian, R & Tashchian, A, Consumers' Shopping Effort and Evaluation of Store Image Attributes: The Roles of Purchasing Involvement and Recreational Shopping Interest, Journal of Applied Business, 2011.

[10] Olsson, Carl Magnus; Henfridsson, Ola; S\o rensen, Carsten; Yoo, Youngjin; Lyytinen, Kalle & De Gross, Janice, Designing Context-Aware Interaction: An Action Research Study, 185, 233-247, 2005.

[11] Pantano, Eleonora & Laria, Giuseppe, Innovation in Retail Process: From Consumers' Experience to Immersive Store Design, Journal of technology management and innovation, Vol. 7, No. 3, 194-206, 2012.

[12] Rosi, Alberto; Mamei, Marco; Zambonelli, Franco; Dobson, Simon; Stevenson, Graeme & Ye, Juan, Social sensors and pervasive services: Approaches and perspectives, 2011 IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications Workshops (PERCOM Workshops), 525-530, March 2011.

[13] Roy, Nirmalya; Gu, Tao & Das, Sajal K, Supporting pervasive computing applications with active context fusion and semantic context delivery, Pervasive and Mobile Computing, Vol. 6, No. 1, 21-42, 2010.

[14] Strohbach, Martin & Martin, Miquel, Toward a Platform for Pervasive Display Applications in Retail Environments, Vol. 10, No. 2, 19-27, 2011.

[15] Wobbrock, Jacob O.; Kane, Shaun K.; Gajos, Krzysztof Z.; Harada, Susumu & Froehlich, Jon, Ability-Based Design, ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1-27, April 2011.

[16] Zhang, Xiaohui & Uruchurtu, Elizabeth, A User Experience Perspective of Design for Context-Aware Adaption, 2011 Seventh International Conference on Intelligent Environments, 1989, 322-325, July 2011.

[17] Zhu, Jian; Oliya, Mohammad; Pung, HK & Wong, WC, SOLE: Context-aware sharing of living experience in mobile environments, Advances in Mobile Computing, 0-3, 2010.

© 2014 - Jonathan Morgan | @promorock | LinkedIn