Sonic Boom: Using sound wave technology to understand shopper behaviour

Sonic Boom helps mall operators understand shopper behaviors throughout their properties © Sonic Boom

Sonic Boom’s solution, which enables data to be captured from mobile devices without needing an internet connection, is eyeing Indonesia’s huge retail market

Jakarta's Sonic Boom is aiming to be the first Indonesian company offering the transmission and acquisition of data to and from smart devices via sound wave, without needing an internet connection. With its ability to travel discreetly and in ways that light and sight aren't able to, sound wave technology is being used in various fields, including marketing, finance and communication, as well as in industries like oil and gas, food and beverage, and retail. Sonic Boom also hopes to usher in a new era for Indonesian businesses with its patented audio technology, Sonic Tone, a proximity-based IoT solution that isn't reliant on the Internet.

Indonesia is a promising market for sound wave technology as 28% of the country's 250m citizens are active smartphone users, a figure that is set to rise to 33% – a third of the entire population – in four years, according to statistic portal Statista. Also known as data-over-sound tech, sound wave tech is regarded as having perfected the methodologies of existing technologies, such as bluetooth, NFC and QR codes, while being more secure and affordable. 

CEO Adrian Sugandhi co-founded Sonic Boom in 2017 with longtime friend Valentinus Boentaran, the company's CTO. The pair had studied in America, where they lived for 10 years. There, Sugandhi worked in Broadcom as a software applications engineer, and Boentaran at LucasArts and Disney as a software engineer. After learning about sound-wave tech and coming up with the idea for Sonic Boom, they decided to return to their homeland and launch their business in Indonesia's untapped market. 

“We think this is the best time to launch Sonic Boom because despite being massive, online data footprints do not provide a complete picture of the real world,” Sugandhi said in an interview. 

With the technology Sonic Boom offers via its touch points – locations where customers come into contact with stores – the startup can provide businesses with a “meaningful offline data footprint that can give a more complete picture of the customer's offline and online journey” that can then be utilized in various ways. Offline data footprint consists of transactions that do not involve e-money or the input of online data like emails. Examples include the use of credits cards or addresses written on paper forms when signing up for a store promotion.

So far, Sonic Boom has raised a total of $300,000 from investors Indogen Capital and EverHaüs.

Targeted insights

According to Sugandhi, Sonic Boom's aim is to “properly understand and engage with real people within a certain proximity through their personal devices,” using algorithms that analyze data captured from multiple points in customers' digital devices.

Sonic Tone is an audio protocol, functioning as middleware – a bridge between an operating system and the applications running on it, that integrates itself to other existing apps by writing 10 lines of codes. It transmits data, which can be audible or inaudible, from any speaker to smart devices while its multi-sensors capture nearby devices' data and journey. Currently, Sonic Tone can send data to a radius of 20 meters though the company plans on expanding its reach.

Retail businesses using Sonic Boom's technology gain a deeper understanding of their customers' shopping habits, for instance, which stores they spend the longest time in in a mall. Through its hyper-local, push-notification ability, Sonic Boom can also broadcast targeted information, such as promotions, within a specified target area. 

“We work with retail property owners to understand offline data footprint and give insights on their visitors' journey, time spent, and recurring visits within the same properties or different ones,” Sugandhi said.

“On top of that, we cross-examine the offline data with the transaction data sampling to determine spending behaviors and other insights.” This means that if partnerships with e-payment platforms and individual stores were to happen, Sonic Boom can build a clear picture of how much money was spent in each store by a customer.

Not surprisingly, Sonic Boom's strongest markets are retail, along with real estate owners and operators and hospitality. After all, Indonesia is engulfed in malls, with the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics counting a total of 780 shopping centers and traditional markets in 2018 – a ready market for Sonic Boom's sound wave tech, Sugandhi says, because the industry suffers from a lack of analytics and visitor traffic information. 

Expand to e-payments

Through its focus on the retail sector, Sonic Boom aims to eventually penetrate the local e-payments industry, which has been popular with Indonesians.

Commercial property specialist Arta Kurnia sees Sonic Boom's long-term plan facing fierce competition from existing e-money operators, like GoPay and Dana. He said Sonic Boom has a unique edge since it is not reliant on internet connectivity, but it will need to play the same game as existing e-money operators with their retail discount-driven and cash-back approach. 

“We are planning to market [Sonic Boom] through partnerships and joint marketing with our strategic partners,” Sugandhi said.

As sound wave tech is still relatively new to the Indonesian market, there is a question of whether its use in obtaining data will face regulatory challenges.

On that point, Sugandhi seemed unfazed: “What we gather is information that is already there; we don't take anything beyond that.”

Dion Panlima Reza, CEO of PT Molindo Visi Properti, which operates a few malls, has been in discussion with Sugandhi about working together. Dion said Sonic Boom's concept is an intriguing one although he would prefer to see it build momentum and awareness among mall developers first.

“If it works well, Sonic Boom's concept will help our businesses with their tenants as we'd have tangible data showing how our properties attract customers to their stores,” Dion said.

Sugandhi is confident that the Indonesian market will quickly get on board. He said, “Market players are still thinking traditionally. They are still thinking about why they need [something like Sonic Boom]. But soon enough they will see the value.”

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Edited by Celine Lim


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