What is geofencing, and how can you use it for your business?

Learn more about the pros and cons of geofencing in the workplace, and find out how this new technology can increase productivity.

What is a geofence?

A geofence is a “virtual geographic boundary, defined by GPS or RFID technology,” according to the Oxford dictionary. Think of a geofence like an invisible fence. When a mobile device crosses the “fence,” the geofence triggers a response. Essentially, geofences use virtual GPS points to trigger responses that send alerts to mobile devices when users enter or exit the geofenced territory.What is geofencing used for?

What is geofencing used for?

Geofencing has a variety of applications, from marketing and social media to workplace time tracking. For example, retailers can use geofencing to alert local shoppers of a great deal nearby. Restaurants can advertise the day’s special to passersby. Ride-sharing services can alert passengers when there’s a driver in their area. Let’s take a closer look.

Common uses for geofencing technology

Social networking

If you’ve attended an event and used a customized filter to share photos and stories from the event, you’ve interacted with geofencing technology. Many businesses use social media and geofencing technology to personalize and enhance the consumer experience. For example, when a consumer enters a geofenced area, they might be prompted to check in, snap a photo, or chat with friends nearby. When they leave the area, the trigger might prompt them to leave feedback or write a review.

Marketing and advertising

Businesses can use geofencing technology to offer special incentives to consumers in the area. For example, a business owner might set a geofence around a competitor and encourage shoppers to shop elsewhere for a better deal.

With geofencing for marketing, businesses can target consumers at events, colleges, trade shows, and more—all from a mobile device. And studies show that these geofencing alerts are effective. 53% of consumers say they have received a geofence alert containing a special offer or discount and have acted on it, according to a 2018 geofencing survey. Another 67% say mobile alerts are always or sometimes useful.

Workplace and employee time tracking

With geofencing in the workplace, an employee arrives at a job site and triggers prompt them to clock in from their mobile device. When workers exit the job site, triggers prompt them to clock out.

As employees come and go, managers can see who’s on-site from miles away. Best of all, when it’s time to run payroll, employees can rest assured they’re being paid for every second they spend on-site. 72% of employees surveyed, who have used geofencing in the workplace, report a positive experience. Overall, geofencing helps managers with employee time tracking.

Personal location tracking

Geofencing has beneficial personal applications too. Location tracking apps like FamiSafe or Life360 allow parents to set geofences around their home, their babysitter’s house, or their child’s school. When their kids come and go from those locations, parents get real-time alerts.

People who hate going home to a dark house can set a geofence around their home. When combined with home automation apps like If This Then That and Google Home, the geofence can trigger lights, stereos, and more.

Geofencing has even been used to protect dementia patients, assist people with drug or alcohol problems, and more. Location tracking solutions like AngelSense, GPS SmartSole, and MindMe can alert caretakers when patients or loved ones leave a geofenced “safe zone.”

Examples of geofence alerts

If you use a smartphone, chances are you’ve already seen a geofence alert. Modern geofencing helps us monitor the weather, shows us Amber alerts, enables us to interact with our favorite brands, and more.

Geofencing in action

  • Loyal Sephora shoppers using the Sephora app are treated to a “shopper’s companion” when they walk into a store. The companion offers insider info on new products, limited-edition releases, special offers, and more. It even alerts shoppers to unspent gift cards or rewards points. The result is sky-high customer loyalty and shopper satisfaction.
  • In 2018, Burger King used geofencing technology to steer hungry customers away from McDonald’s. Burger King app users received an offer for a 1 cent Whopper as soon as they got within 600 feet of a McDonald’s. And it worked. Because of the promotion, over a million users downloaded the Burger King app.
  • Some time tracking apps use geofencing to remind employees to clock in and out as they enter and exit geofenced job sites. For office workers, an app may remind them to clock in as soon as they’re near the main entrance.

Pros and cons of geofencing in the workplace

As geofencing technology grows in popularity, especially for use in the workplace, so do concerns about employee privacy. However, the 2018 geofencing survey shows that employees don’t mind geofencing at work. Of those who have used the technology, the majority say it was a positive experience. Only 8% said their experience wasn’t so great.

Additionally, those who are unfamiliar with geofencing aren’t opposed to it. 76% of employees say they would feel neutral or positive if their employer decided to implement geofencing in the workplace. They believed it could help increase employee safety on the job site, boost employee accountability, and ensure paycheck accuracy. But as with any technology, geofencing in the workplace has a few pros and cons.

Geofencing pros

1. It can increase productivity

Over 50% of surveyed employees say geofencing increases their efficiency on the job. Meanwhile, geofencing technology can help employers make smarter data-driven decisions when it comes to moving employees from job site to job site. Geofencing makes it easier to manage a remote workforce, increase team collaboration, and more.

2. It can support employee accountability and safety

Employees don’t mind using geofencing technology in the workplace, according to the 2018 geofencing survey. In fact, the majority of employees believe geofencing can increase their safety and accountability at work. In high-security situations, geofencing technology can protect valuable data by restricting access to devices or applications inside a company’s perimeter.

3. It’s accurate and automated

Geofencing in the workplace takes the guesswork out of time tracking. Employees who have used geofencing believe that alerts and reminders triggered by a geofence are helpful in their daily work. They said geofencing makes tracking time easier and more accurate.

Geofencing cons

1. It can be tedious to maintain

Like any technology, geofencing has its bugs. The majority of people who have used geofencing said it worked most if not all of the time. But some, about 17%, ran into some snafus. These users experienced consistent problems with their geofencing technology. 6% said they had to abandon the technology entirely. Employers with workers at different job sites might find themselves updating the geofencing perimeter more than they would like.

2. It can cause privacy concerns

While most employees surveyed feel neutral or positive about geofencing in the workplace, they still harbor concerns about personal privacy. They worry the geofencing alerts might feel too invasive, and hesitate to share their location data. Many consumers share these concerns when it comes to geofencing as a marketing tactic. Both employees and consumers agree that trust is key when it comes to geofencing technology.

3. It can drain cell phone data and battery life

Most employees are willing to give geofencing in the workplace a try. But they’re still concerned about the effect it could have on their mobile devices. Data strain and battery drain are the top two concerns across the board, especially for employees who use their personal devices for work.

Alternatives to geofencing

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, there are a few alternatives to geofencing that might work for your business.

1. Beacons

Beacons are small, low-energy mobile devices that use Bluetooth signals to detect a user’s proximity and send push notifications to those in range. Beacons have a few things going for them. For one, they only send signals and don’t receive them. So they don’t come with many of the same privacy concerns geofencing can carry. And because beacons rely on Bluetooth technology, they hardly use any data and won’t affect battery life. Redefining a “fenced” area is as easy as picking up and moving the beacons. And while they can’t pinpoint a user’s location, beacons can determine how close a user is to the beacon.

But here’s the downside: Beacons are physical, mobile devices, so they can be lost, stolen, or broken. And while beacons are great for micro-locations, like a single floor of a department store, they’re not great for larger perimeters, like city blocks. If location accuracy is important for your business, beacons might not be the best choice.

2. Breadcrumb tracking

Breadcrumb tracking is a low-energy, low-cost solution for GPS tracking. Rather than tracking a user’s location constantly, breadcrumb tracking captures location data on a per-instance basis.

For example, some time tracking apps use breadcrumb tracking to record an employee’s location each time they clock in or out. These GPS “pings” use a minimal amount of data and don’t impact battery life. Best of all, breadcrumb tracking isn’t restricted to a predefined perimeter. There’s no need to redefine a geofenced area, move a beacon, or pull location points.

While breadcrumbs are great for those looking to track GPS points on a map, they’re not great for those who want to use GPS to promote products or sales. Mobile users must be interacting with an app or tracking device to register a location. If not, there’s no way to know when to send them a push notification.

Additional resources about geofencing

Learn how geofencing can lead to fewer timesheet edits, increased employee accountability, and an easier, more accurate time tracking experience.