5 Ways to Track In-Store Customer Behavior

There's a fine line between tracking the behaviors of customers in your brick-and-mortar store and spying on them. The technology discussed here uses data from customers' smartphones in conjunction with opt-in apps to offer patrons deals and show retailers what's happening in their stores.

By John Brandon
Wed, July 31, 2013

CIO — Is there a safe way to track customers in a retail store? Don't ask Nordstrom, which came under fire in May for tracking the Wi-Fi signal of users who visited their store.

Using a service from Euclid Analytics, Nordstrom was tracking the media access control (MAC) address of a smartphone to analyze customer behavior in the store. For example, the retailer can find out where in the store most customers linger or how often a phone user shops at a particular location. According to an ABC News report, customers were not happy about the privacy invasion.

News: Researcher Hijacks MAC Addresses From Insecure Embedded Devices for 'Internet Scanning Project'
Also: Privacy Campaigners Slam Shopper Tracking Tech

Fortunately, there are less invasive ways to accomplish the same goals. The six technologies featured here do not track a specific customer or his purchases unless they opt-in to the service. In some cases, data is collected anonymously but isn't tied to a specific patron's MAC address.

1. Wi-Fi Fingerprinting: Track Strength of a Signal

Wi-Fi Logo

This technique tracks the Wi-Fi signal strength of a smartphone or tablet in the store. One leader in Wi-Fi fingerprinting, Bellevue, Wash.-based Point Inside, offers the service through a store's branded app as part of an opt-in loyalty program. The Wi-Fi signal strength reveals where a customer goes in the store, which then helps a retailer develop product placement strategies.

2. MEMS: Create a Heat Map of Customer Activity

To provide more exact tracking, retailers can use the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) chip on a smartphone. MEMS data uses the accelerometer and gyroscope within a smartphone or tablet to show the exact angle, direction and position of the device. Point Inside already has the technology to read this data through an opt-in app, but this specific technique appeals to companies because it can create a precise heat map of how a customer has travelled through a store.

More: MEMS Devices Swarm Over Consumer Electronics Show

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