Can Online Shopper Metrics Be Brought to Stores?

Discussion
Mar 05, 2013

By measuring clicks and browsing time, e-commerce sites provide extensive data around items shoppers like. New visual and mobile technologies are promising to bring those measurements to brick & mortar.

At the NRF Show in January, ShopperTrak revealed its new shopper counting feature that utilizes wireless technology to measure both the number of customers in the area (represented graphically with heat mapping) and shopper dwell time (the amount of time shoppers remain in one area). Combined with foot-traffic data and conversion rates, store managers can position employees in the areas with the highest shopper traffic. Merchandise mix, signage and store layout can also be tweaked, as well as marketing effectiveness down to the department or product level.

ALL-TAG showcased its broadened range of products at the show starting with simple door counter displays that show the current number of people entering a building or space during a given period of time. The company also showcased advanced radio-frequency counting systems that allow businesses to view data on a remote PC.

"We are now taking our infrared technology to a new level by using it to detect and report people’s actions, proximity relative to specific objects, duration of events, air quality, noise level, energy consumption, and much more," said ALL-TAG’s sales and marketing director Andy Gilbert in a statement.

An analysis of the emerging technologies in The Economist noted how sophisticated video technologies are promising to determine a shopper’s sex, ethnicity and age. Some of these advances are driven by facial and infrared retina tracking. Beyond visual, mobile phone signals can be picked up to determine what share of passers-by enter a store, how many leave immediately and how many are repeat customers.

For staff optimization, Hawaii’s Foodland implemented thermal-powered people counting from Irisys to understand when to open up an extra register.

"We know the checkout experience can leave lasting impressions on our customers, particularly if it feels understaffed, time consuming and unorganized," Robert Murphy, CIO of Foodland, told Retail TouchPoints.

Other visual technologies tracking customer counts and movement can measure how long it takes an employee to retrieve a pair of shoes from the stockroom, or greet a new customer entering a store.

Jonathan Spooner, account manager at Control Group, writes on his company’s blog that future video/scanner systems will capture shopper interactions with merchandise via embedded UHF/UH RFID chips that can pinpoint the location of products and analyze the data compared to the customer’s final purchase total.

Privacy hurdles remain, but some observers believe shoppers will relent as long as the analysis is reading "group" rather than "individual" buying tendencies. Will Smith, of Euclid Analytics, told The Economist, "Companies that succeed in this space are companies that address privacy correctly."

Will online shopper metrics likely always have an edge over in-store metrics? Which visual or mobile shopper tracking technologies hold the most promise to improve in-store shopper metrics in 2013?

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23 Comments on "Can Online Shopper Metrics Be Brought to Stores?"

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Frank Riso
BrainTrust

I would not measure one over the other, but look to mesh the shopping experience online with the data from in-store so that the complete picture of a shopper’s likes and preferences are used to enhance the shopping experience in both worlds. Likewise, the technology is also a combination of wireless, mobile applications, video and the tried and true staple of great staff service to understand the shopping trip for each shopper.

Mark Heckman
BrainTrust

My friend and colleague, Herb Sorensen has authored and innovated “counting and tracking” technology in-store for a number of years, yielding amazing new metrics and implications. Herb (and others) who specialize in in-store shopper tracking will likely tell you that the while the technology has been prohibitively expensive in the past for widespread use, that is not the case today. The way is clear for more in-depth study of the shopper in-store at a scalable level.

With that said, bricks and mortar retailers need to be led strategically to understand the value and implications of measuring shoppers trips in terms of where the go and don’t go, what speed they are traveling, and how long they dwell in front of displays, and products down the aisle.

The quick answer to Tom Ryan’s question is “no, online shopper metrics will not always have an edge on in-store metrics.” However, they certainly will until we do a better job as researchers of making the case that implementing in-store shopper tracking tools are the single most critical resource for such things as optimizing store layouts, monitoring merchandising techniques, refining product positioning and monetizing in-store media.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Online metrics will always be more definitive for a specific action due to the nature of tracking ‘clicks’ than practical and scalable in-store metrics. However, there are tremendous insights to be gained in determining the efficacy and monitoring the the in-store environment.

Respecting the privacy of shoppers is imperative. Using technologies that ‘sniff’ out mobile device signals and collecting behavioral data is not respecting your shopper’s privacy and will backfire. These technologies are laying the groundwork to sell the ‘access’ to advertisers to ‘push’ advertisements and promotional material to your device. There are so many other methods and insights that can be implemented and garnered that can be used to bring real value to your shoppers and customers if you take the time and effort to design meaningful solutions. Video analytics and specifically object recognition has the broadest commercial value to retailers, brands and shoppers.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
4 years 8 months ago

These are great innovations and logical retail extensions of today’s capabilities, however, it is not about one use case, or one technology, or one algorithm or even just the store.

As the world “wakes up” with the Internet of Everything—a multi-sensor, big data fusion (volume, velocity, variety…)—the broader underlying architectures and platforms are going to enable transformations that fundamentally redefine “omni-channel” retailing.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
4 years 8 months ago

This is another “big data” problem that risks creating more islands of data and pseudo insights and metrics.

Whatever you do, don’t lose the customer in all of this. Just becuase some part of a website gets more clicks; it doesn’t mean any of these come from loyal customers.

Similarly, online conversion rates without including the offline sales can provide very misleading insights and result in “optimizing” the wrong behavior. The reverse of course is true with a lot of the new instore digital measurement solutions.

Beware what you are optimizing for! You might find you become a great destination for cherry-pickers….

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Online shopper metrics will probably be a bit cleaner, but if in-store can be effectively analyzed, it would certainly be more of a direct recording than online. Just as with online marketing, in-store efforts will have to find a way to overcome the “big brother is watching” implications of stores recording footsteps and duration of shopping experiences.

Herb Sorensen
BrainTrust
At the time I wrote my book, “Inside the Mind of the Shopper,” – 2009, we had a decade of experience tracking millions of shoppers through stores, using RFID, video and other technologies.  Even before that, IRI tracked shoppers with VideoCart and Mark Heckman at Marsh had done the same using binoculars from catwalks above the sales floor. It was Peter Fader who noticed the similarity of the click-click-click down the aisle in the bricks store to the click-click-click in the online store. We recognized the complementary nature of online and offline back then, so it was bricks tracking methodology in the lead, with online following. This is all part of the growing convergence of online-mobile and bricks retailing that I have been touting here at RW for quite some time. It’s obvious that somebody at Google understands the brain-dead approach that techies are taking to this stuff. But you’ll notice that retailers are not rushing to get in line to bring this stuff in-store — unless they can find some way to reap more from their supplier “customers.”  That’s right, pretending that shoppers are their customers is nearly farcical.  As a senior executive at Carrefour asked me in a… Read more »
Todd Sherman
Guest
Todd Sherman
4 years 8 months ago

The short answer is “no, online metrics will not always have the edge over in-store metrics.”

The longer answer is in the way customers are adopting mobile/apps to help them shop in-store. That data contains shopping lists (immediate purchase intent data), responses to product suggestions and special offers, and indoor location information (including locations of the products they want), where the shopper spends time in the store.

Plus, if the customer signs into the app (which will be motivated by special offers, loyalty points, etc.), the complete connection from shopping list to POS data and everything in between can be recorded and measured.

With +90% of shopping still happening in-store, that’ll be a treasure trove of data to help understand and improve the retail experience. It’s an amazing opportunity for retailers.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

This is one of the first forays into true integration of physical shopping (and buying) with digital shopping. As mobile devices become more sentient and trackable with both physical and digital behaviors, marketers won’t even have these discussions. Shoppers will increasingly be identifiable with a singular, digital signature.

Martin Mehalchin
BrainTrust

Online metrics will be easier to gather for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of implementing in-store measurement programs. In order to compete in an omni-channel environment, brick and mortar retailers will need to infuse a data-driven mentality into every facet of their operation from store design to merchandising to store labor plans.

We are already seeing a proliferation of technologies to address this and the trick for retailers over the next few years will be to separate the signal from the noise and implement an in-store metrics program that provides the right, actionable information.

My advice: figure out your objectives and strategy first and then look at the technology available to achieve your aims.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The challenge is the expense to deploy these technologies in multiple stores, at least for now. Online retailers definitely have the cost advantage. However, it is critical to look at true ROI for physical store deployments. With a proper business justification in place, the ROI can most definitely support implementing these technologies in stores. The additional revenue from remerchandising to increase purchase spots vs. browsing spots, as an example, can be huge. Further, the reduction in inventory and labor expense can drive the ROI even higher. Few retailers do a proper business case analysis for this technology.

James Tenser
BrainTrust
Online metrics have certainly raised the bar, but in-store sensing will bring its own particular nuances—in some ways surpassing online practices. The In-Store Implementation Network identifies five senses of in-store: Demand, Items, Messages, Employees and Shoppers (DIMES). Tracking shopper movement within the physical store is only one element of the Shopper term of the equation, as I see it. The present discussion drills deeper into shopper data alternatives—to consider whether tracking mobile phones is a better choice versus analyzing security video versus installing special-purpose video networks versus tracking transponders mounted on shopping carts. (Have we totally given up on electric eyes and grad students with clipboards?) Further choices include: Do we analyze whole paths or stick to zones? Do we infer shopper demographics from video images? Do we mesh tracking data with POS transaction data? However data is captured, appropriate analytics must be applied to extract managerially useful insights. The outputs must be timely and in a format that is accessible to decision-makers. This is a lively sector for our business. With many competitors vying to be the industry standard, I can only offer some general advice: #1 – Don’t assume comprehensive understanding of your shoppers based solely upon path… Read more »
Marge Laney
BrainTrust
4 years 8 months ago

Metrics that are easily understood and actionable, in real-time by store personnel hold the most potential for improving brick and mortar performance. No metric is worth tracking and reporting unless there is a strategy behind it to take advantage of the opportunity it presents.

Tracking customers through the store and measuring dwell time is little more than interesting unless it leads to an associate engaging those customers in a meaningful way.

I agree with Martin; don’t collect data and then look for the problem it solves. Understand where your customer is making their buying decision, have a strategy to help that customer convert and then look for technology to support and report.

Tim Callan
Guest
Tim Callan
4 years 8 months ago
Will retailers ever know more about brick-and-mortar shoppers’ behaviors and preferences than about those of online shoppers? This may surprise you, but the fact is many already do. The Economist article mentioned in this discussion references RetailNext customers, American Apparel and Gordmans, that are already seeing significant results using in-store metrics. “American Apparel’s store managers thought they were busiest when sales peaked. They were typically off by two hours. Now the retailer gathers traffic data from cameras mounted above the doors and feeds that into its staff-scheduling software. When crowds come, the shops now have enough salespeople to serve them. As a result, sales are up “across the board,” said CTO of American Apparel, Stacey Shulman.” [Economist; 2/9/13] “Gordmans, a Midwestern department-store chain, discovered via video that goods at a particular display sold especially well. It changed the wares from home furnishings to higher-margin fashion items.” [Economist; 2/9/13] Web sites are finite; physical stores are not. A typical e-commerce site has well under fifty links on any given page, equating to fewer than fifty actions you can take. But someone standing in a physical store with an item in hand has infinite possibilities for what to do next. She can… Read more »
chris angell
Guest
chris angell
4 years 8 months ago

No, online will not always have an edge. Bluetooth, WiFi and video hold the most promise in the near term. I say this because this is what our over 400 retail customers are asking for. However, without a consistent and high quality traffic count, the mobile detection data has no context. Our customers know that identifying 15 people dwelling in a zone means nothing if you don’t first know how many people are in the store.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Privacy is an issue when we start to talk tracking anyone, regardless of whether it is a group or an individual. Retailers keep looking for the next magical answer to improve their problems, without looking for the real basis of their problems: product pricing, availability (OOS), positioning, and placement. Add great customer service to this simple mix and we have the secret sauce to great retail at every level!

Tom Redd
Guest

With retail, my read is that all metrics will come together into a single source that can apply to better serving the shopper.

A simple point, but a complex challenge that requires a strong retail platform, granular data analysis capabilities, and a commitment to the shopper and to customer loyalty.

Intel’s activity in embedded technology is a key step towards feeding this type of repository. They state that “Embedded computing has the power to transform the retail landscape. Digital retail technology can be used to meet shoppers’ demands for efficiency, speed, improved customer service, as well as their desire to be more informed and socially connected, while simultaneously addressing the retail industry’s needs for increased growth, increased basket-size….”

Retail—part of it is in the hands of technology we have not seen yet. In the end it will all be about how we are able to use what this technology produces to make our shoppers smile—online or in the store.

Vahe Katros
Guest

Online is definitely an easier place to run a/b tests or execute changes to navigation or assortment/product pages. It’s much easier to add capacity in the virtual world (including help desk) and with cookies, online has much going for it.

This small article covers much—thanks for assembling the various pieces of this emerging big puzzle that ultimately has to do with Insight Management.

For sure, the use of cameras to alert staff that a register needs to be opened is obvious and doable. The real challenge will be sifting insights from the not so obvious empty space.

After the basic fixes, the challenge will be the same: How do we learn from shoppers to turn those learnings into meaningful improvements.

Wire-up a lab store and run some tests. Visit competitors who already have in-store analytics and see what you can appropriate. In the end, it’s a lot of work and a struggle. Perhaps JC Penney and Ron Johnson will show us the way.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Online shopper metrics can track buying patterns and trends but don’t capture the emotion that an in-store or follow-up phone survey can deliver.

I’m most impressed with location services that mobile devices can provide. A customer who trusts their retailer can get some very customized and specialized marketing.

Steve Bowen
Guest
Steve Bowen
4 years 8 months ago

Just like online, the baseball adage of “hit ’em where they ain’t” is not a successful engagement and sales strategy in-store. All the best merchandising and promotions in the world won’t help products placed where the traffic isn’t. I say measure on in-store, but only meaningful analysis and interpretation will hit a home run!

Shilpa Rao
Guest

Digital or online shopper metrics are easy to track and measure, simply due to the fact that activities are digitally captured. In-store tracking science has made good progress. In fact, I was quite impressed with the application at NRF. It could tell my gender and age group accurately. However, I’m not sure of the extent of adoption of this science by retailers and prioritizing this project among others.

Best metric to measure is in-store shopper satisfaction. Shoppers are now more than willing to share data; they have their location sensors on for you to know their location and social media to listen to what they think about you. Combining this, a store reputation dashboard could be created where the goal is to improve the store reputation, which is based on metrics like how many customers make positive comments, how quickly did customers find what they needed, and others.

David Potts
Guest
David Potts
4 years 8 months ago

Regarding the second question on tracking technologies, there are some promising technologies that address effectiveness of the retailers in-store merchandising, but these tools demand a lot of setup and on-going management to be effective. So they may be limited to large retailers.

Innovative smartphone technologies are more likely to assist a broader retailer base as the solutions could scale more easily as the retailer grows.

Chandan Agarwala
Guest
Chandan Agarwala
4 years 8 months ago

Business case for the success of online metrics is exemplified by Amazon. They use the browsing behavior to suggest customized offerings for the user. Many other e-commerce providers have tried to replicate the model, but have had little success. There is no success model of social business metrics, till now.

Instead of trying to emulate the online metrics, or piloting fanciful technology usage, in-store metric should evolve to complement existing shopping experience. Location-based social networks are used by food and beverage retailers for running campaigns on Foursquare. Similar intelligence should be created to generate customized offerings. Though the scale of operations can be a challenge.

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