Columbia : Knowing where you are
Reliability raises questions about a location detector.
Columbia, a US-based sportswear company, has an automatic location detector fitted to its store finder.
Columbia’s home page has a line of five graphic links toward the foot of the page, with ‘Where to buy’ at the right-hand end. The link is to a retailer finder and opens a page headed by a navigable map on which are marked a number of locations, with contact details listed below the map. The map is of an area nearest to where the user is estimated to be: “We think you’re shopping near [town/district]” is the heading. A ‘Change location’ button allows manual re-setting of the coordinates using city/post code, country and ‘distance from’ options.
The location estimator is not reliable (computers in neighbouring houses can get results differing by hundreds of miles), while the accuracy and announcement of self-set results is patchy. For example, “Sorry, we could not find any locations” can appear with a map and details showing the opposite.
Columbia’s retailer locator is something shoppers could find both potentially useful and instantly scary. Sure, it has the ability (if not the reliability) to get you to targeted information much quicker than a more conventional mapping tool. But without you being asked for or offering any personal details. Market research may have shown Columbia its demographic is unfazed by such things, but there are still plenty of internet users who would feel uneasy about it.
Columbia is, however, unlikely to really know where you live or be acting on ‘inside information’. It’s probably using a tool provided by ‘Wheretogetit’ or a similar provider of locators that work by identifying the user computer’s IP (internet provider) address – hence the sometimes off-track match. And that may be a bigger argument against the tool. It seems something of a blunt instrument compared with more conventional menu-based finders – or, indeed, its own manual change option. The combination of unreliability and unease makes a strong argument for toning down the technology, perhaps just to recognising the user’s country location and adjusting options accordingly.http://www.columbia.com
First published on 02 September, 2008