Retail Technology 2013: In-Store Shopper Tracking

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Brick and mortar retailers have an under-leveraged advantage over online retail– the ability to observe real shoppers making purchase decisions in their store. E-commerce site analytics have user traceability that gives online retailers the ability to watch their customers convert via their site interactions. Now brick and mortar retail is catching up by implementing real world customer tracking analytics with a sophistication of its own. As the shopper tracking space matures, cutting edge advancements are moving beyond the lens of a camera and in innovative new directions.

With the majority of Americans carrying smartphones these days, a few companies have keyed in on the fact that smartphones are constantly sending out signals looking for available wireless networks. These signals identified by a unique MAC address are anonymous (for the most part) and can be detected with simple wireless receivers. Software vendors like Euclid Elements and Nomi have built enterprise solutions around analyzing the number of MAC addresses in a store. One limitation is that raw MAC address data does not include location– so if there are 20 MAC addresses in a store, there is no way to determine where they are in the store or what products they are investigating. Cisco offers a solution in the Wireless Location Appliance. Through a concerted effort of routers and detectors, the appliance can locate a MAC address within 5 meters. While this may not be the appropriate level of granularity for a small retail store footprint, big box stores could use this data to adjust store layouts and merchandising opportunities.

The next level of shopper detection granularity is available with infra-red (IR) & visual camera systems– popularized by the rapid adoption of the Xbox Kinect. Primesense recently acquired Argentinian start-up Shopperception, which offers a full suite of tools and analytics that can leverage the added data an IR & light sensor can capture. More than a simple head count, the Shopperception system can create heat maps of a store to show where people dwell and move in-store. It also monitors product shelves and tracks which products shoppers touched, returned and purchased.  With this advanced ability to track shoppers and how they interact with the retail environment, the commonplace e-commerce technique of A/B testing is now possible for brick and mortar stores. Did shoppers touch products at eye level first but eventually purchase items from lower shelves? Did an End Cap drive sales of the intended product or merely create a foot-traffic bottleneck? Now we can finally tell.