12/21/2011 02:16 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST

Smartphone app links shoppers with stores

A new app from a Toronto company can tailor smartphone messages and direct them at shoppers based on where they are inside a store or mall.

Members who sign up for Bee Media can receive location-specific shopping information — such as sale details, new products, store maps, etc. — that change as the shopper moves through a store.

For instance, a shopper who signs up and lists shoes as a product of interest could receive shopping messages about shoes as they walk through retail stores linked in to the service. The app uses a geolocation feature to search for nearby results.

Bee Media CEO Doug Woolridge said the idea is to provide shoppers with information they want when and where they need it most.

"It's about creating a great shopping experience on your smartphone when you're actually shopping," said Woolridge. “You create a profile and decide what retailer you want to see and what likes and dislikes you have," he said.

Andrew Clement is a University of Toronto professor who specializes in the social issues raised by information technology.

Clement has raised concerns about how retailers use the information they gather from shoppers, particularly through the use of in-store surveillance cameras.

He said that while Bee Media at least gives shoppers the choice of sharing their personal information, it can be a concern if data from different sources — such as cameras, credit card purchases and smartphone use — is combined in ways the consumer doesn't know about or consent to.

"Certainly an app that you turn on is much better than the surreptitious collection of information," said Clement.

"In principle they could look up to see who you are and they can develop a profile. It's valuable information. This information they're collecting belongs to us."

Woolridge said Bee Media can't deliver information to shoppers who don't first sign up for the service.

"The most important thing is relevance and personalization," he said. "Without that, it's spam. If it's not an experience you're looking for, you don't become a member."

Woolridge said Bee Media currently has about 5,000 members since starting last spring, though no retailers have yet signed on as partners. Users can currently only view interactive maps of the store on their phones.