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The Evolution and Application of Geofencing Technology in 2018

New research reveals a growing impact on marketing, the workplace, and our lives

However familiar you are with geofencing technology, you might be surprised by how ubiquitous it has become over the past few years. And this trend of familiarity seems to be growing. Much like the other location-aware technology we use in our everyday lives (think navigation and Google Maps), geofencing has transcended the virtual and very much exists alongside and interacts with the physical world.

2018 geofencing survey

The TSheets 2018 geofencing survey shows the growing awareness of the technology, expanding on the insights from our 2017 geofencing survey.* Overall, we found that, in general, people are happy to have their location tracked, especially if it involves receiving notifications about discounts while shopping. And while a good number of people are sometimes concerned about the data they share, the majority of people find alerts to be useful. When it comes to using geofencing tech at work, it’s a mixed bag of neutral perceptions and positive experiences.

What is a geofence?

A common question is, “what is a geofence?“. A geofence is a “virtual geographic boundary, defined by GPS or RFID technology, that enables software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area.” You’d be right to assume that geofencing has many applications, from marketing and healthcare to workplace time tracking, but how do people feel about their physical location being used to trigger notifications on their phones from their place of business?

Geofencing in the workplace

72 percent of respondents report positive experiences with geofencing at work

There is evidence of an increased use of geofencing at work. Compared to the 2017 survey, more people are using geofencing technology while at work. In 2017, our survey found 12 percent said they’d used it in the workplace. Today, 17 percent report the same. While 15 percent who said they weren’t sure if they’ve used the technology, 86 percent who said they have used it are between the ages of 18 and 44, suggesting baby boomers and older generations could be less familiar with the technology than their younger counterparts.

Have you ever used geofencing at work?

What was your experience using geofencing at work?

Among our respondents, only 8 percent said they had a negative experience with geofencing at work. The neutral answer was the second most popular, with 20 percent saying they didn’t care either way about geofencing technology in the workplace.

If your employer did set up geofencing in your workplace, how would you feel about it?

Over half (63 percent) of those who have not yet been exposed to geofencing in the workplace expressed neutral feelings about the technology, the same percentage as in 2017. It could be that employees still haven’t had enough experience with the technology to form a strong opinion, or they see it as a normal progression, as the virtual world becomes more and more intertwined with our everyday experiences.

What do employers use geofencing technology for?

Employers might implement software that uses geofencing technology for a number of reasons. Workers out in the field might be notified when entering or exiting a job site, or employers can use it to track equipment, remind employees to clock in and out, or make sure teams are where they need to be.

We asked our survey respondents who use geofencing at work why they think their employer implemented it. The top three answers were for safety, accountability, and to prevent time theft (people adding unauthorized hours, or hours they did not work, to their timesheets).

Why do you think your employer uses/used geofencing?

Top concerns identified by employees

Of those who said they used geofencing at work, 41 percent reported the technology worked perfectly all the time. Forty percent said they had some problems, but they were not significant. Only 6 percent said the technology never worked and they had to abandon it, down 9 percent from 2017. This could suggest a combination of the technology getting more efficient and workers becoming more comfortable using it.

Did you experience any problems with the technology?

Do you have any concerns about the use of geofencing in the workplace?

Neutral or not, the top three concerns employees had about the technology had more to do with the effect it would have on their mobile devices than their locations being tracked. Its effect on cellphone batteries and data usage and the cost of the software were the top three concerns about geofencing, which, again, mirrored the 2017 findings.

Top benefits identified by employees

The survey also found similar results to the 2017 survey when it came to the perceived benefits of implementing geofencing at work. The top three benefits, according to employees, are accountability, the ease of locating coworkers or equipment, and the helpfulness of reminders and alerts.

Do you see any benefits from the use of geofencing in the workplace?

Geofencing and marketing

Out and about: How people feel about location tracking

Outside of the workplace, perhaps the best-known application of geofencing is in the world of marketing — especially retail marketing — where shoppers’ locations can be used to trigger messages, alerts, and discounts from apps on their phones. The survey reveals that just 35 percent have never received one of these messages.

Have you ever walked into or near a retail store, restaurant, or cafe and received a message from an app on your phone with a special offer or discount?

Are you happy for apps to track your location in any of the following situations?

Of our survey respondents, 44 percent said they’re happy to have their location tracked in the name of a good deal. Other popular reasons to allow location data? People aren’t bothered by hearing about nearby events and job offers.

What influences your decision about whether to enable location services?

Given the number of people who now use apps with location services, we wanted to find out what factors persuade them to disclose or hide their location. The results were as expected. Trust and efficacy are both vital to this decision. If the app is reputable and the information it shares is helpful, by and large, we’re happy to give it our whereabouts.

Where have you received location-based advertisements/information?

With our respondents’ general openness to geofencing technology and the marketing opportunities it presents for businesses, it’s not surprising that the most common location people receive location-based advertisements is when they’re out shopping. Over half (59 percent) of those who said they have received location-based advertisements or information said they got it when they were out shopping. Runners-up to that statistic are notifications being received at home and when dining out.

How do you feel about mobile apps that use your location to send alerts?

Similarly, 31 percent of respondents said they don’t like having their location tracked for location-based advertisements. A quarter said these alerts are sometimes annoying and 8 percent said they’re always annoyed by this type of mobile app alert. However, more than half of our respondents (53 percent) said mobile apps that send alerts, such as special reminders based on your location, can sometimes be useful.

Concerned about app notifications? Tailored alerts may be the answer.

However comfortable they are with geofencing, people are more discerning when it comes to the type of information an app sends them. When asked how they feel about companies using their location to tailor a message for them, 42 percent said they have concerns and try to limit the data they share. Meanwhile, 29 percent said they have some concerns, but this doesn’t stop them from limiting the data they share.

How do you feel about companies using your location to tailor the information they show you?

As with most questions of privacy, there are always people who prefer to be more private than others, especially when it comes to marketing and what information businesses send them based on where they are in a physical space. Twelve percent said they have “major” concerns and would prefer not to share any of their data.

For those who would prefer not to receive alerts, there’s always the option to turn off notifications. We found the top three types of apps for which people disable alerts are in line with the 2017 survey: games, social media, and email. But around 1 in 4 (23 percent) respondents never disable app notifications.

In which of the following apps do you disable notifications?

New geofencing applications

Putting healthcare and construction on the map

New applications for geofencing have been making headlines recently for different reasons. In construction, geofences can help track workers or equipment. In healthcare, as NPR reported, they can be used by personal injury lawyers in emergency rooms. And as we’ve seen from the data above, 6 percent of our survey respondents have already encountered a geofence in a hospital.

With this in mind, the survey explored how people feel about other applications of geofencing. Two of out of the top three most popular promote safety, and in all cases, the majority felt more positive about the technology than negative.

How do you feel about the following applications of geofencing technology?

*Methodology: 500 employees throughout the U.S. were selected and surveyed by PollFish in August 2018. TSheets designed and paid for the survey. The respondents were not connected to TSheets, and the responses were anonymous. For more information and media inquiries, please contact TSheets welcomes the re-use of this data under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original source is cited with attribution to “TSheets.”