Could heat mapping be an equalizer for brick & mortar?

Discussion
Source: SEQ Surveillance Service Inc.
Sep 28, 2016
Tom Ryan

E-commerce sites can gain a huge benefit from the ability to track a browser’s every move, thus allowing the retailer to continually tweak targeting on a real-time basis. In the physical retail realm, cameras equipped with heat mapping software are promising to bring similar analytics.

At its most basic, heat mapping uses security camera images to illustrate the hot and dead zones in a store. Generally, red areas indicate spots where many customers have have been present, while green spots signify lower traffic. Retailers are now also incorporating beacons, ceiling sensors, weight-sensing shelves and other emerging technologies to deliver increasingly detailed heat maps.

Understanding where shoppers congregate and linger adds some science to in-store merchandising that has traditionally been done by gut instinct and employee observations. Dead zones can point to problems with traffic flow that may inspire shelf or layout changes.

“There is tremendous interest in this tracking because stores are essentially flying blind,” Chris Petersen, president of Integrated Marketing Solutions and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “They don’t have all the bread crumbs you leave on a website.”

For example, such insights may lead retailers to move fixtures in order to reduce bottlenecks and increase traffic around promotional displays. Operators can use A/B testing to see whether in-store placement or some factor such as pricing, quality or marketing message is behind a dead zone or slow seller. Weight-sensing shelves and RFID can even reveal which items have been picked up but not sold.

“OK, so this is working, this is not working, I need to change this and quickly make adjustments,” Cliff Crosbie, SVP Retail at Prism Skylabs, a video-based analytics service, told CNN Money. Other heat mapping software players include Angle Cam, SEQ Security Surveillance Services, InteraLinx and MOBOTI.

The next major step in improving heat maps is expected to be incorporating facial sensing technology to plug in a shopper’s age, gender and potentially their mood.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are the benefits and limits of heat mapping as a tool for understanding in-store shopper behavior? Are the comparisons to tracking online shopping behavior reasonable?

Braintrust
"There are too many dashboards and not enough steering wheels!"
"A great use of technology — but gee, don’t store managers already know this stuff?"
"Heat mapping techniques can provide some valuable information, but retailers have to be careful to respect shoppers’ privacy in their stores."

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18 Comments on "Could heat mapping be an equalizer for brick & mortar?"

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Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Everything old is new again. I remember, roughly 100 years ago, being with a small, one-store operator in rural Tennessee. He seemed to have an extraordinarily sophisticated understanding of his store traffic. I asked him how he knew so much about dwell times, traffic patterns, etc. “Oh, that’s simple,” he said. “I just wait for rainy days and then I track the puddles on the floor and the wet footprints.” And so it goes.

Herb Sorensen
BrainTrust
Having done thousands of heat maps in hundreds of stores around the world since 2001, let me share some thoughts on why this particular very ancient methodology, which could be of great significance, has gone nowhere over a long period of time. Retailers are not fundamentally salesmen, selling to shoppers. They are merchant warehousemen who rely on unpaid stock pickers, aka shoppers, to pick their own merchandise and bring it to checkout. Their very nearly total focus is on the supply chain plus store operations. They quite naturally do not care a lot about the shopper, other than their money, and tallying what they buy for managing the supply side of the business. Bear in mind that this highly effective engine has delivered trillions of dollars of merchandise over the past century. Major brands who really do have lots of money to invest in the details of the “selling to the shoppers” side of the business are very narrowly focussed on only their own products, or category — at most. No one is really minding the store from the shoppers’ points of view. Academics and research companies are largely focussed on analyzing whatever data is already available, except that with… Read more »
Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

The ability to see traffic patterns may be old, but what the retailers should do with that data has been the missing piece to make it actionable. Online, it’s easy to watch heat maps and draw correlations to the sales funnel; offline there are considerably more factors that only now some of these sensors can also pick up — for example, demographics or even mood. Ultimately, the information that can be gathered in a physical store environment can be much richer; however, retailers still need to know what to do with it.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Tracking the customer’s journey on a website is revealing. You can see where customers spend time reading, how fast they decide to buy, when they tend to drop off if they don’t buy and much more.

Taking that concept into the store where possible through some type of technology, in this case heat mapping, can give a retailer insight into what displays are catching attention, how much time they are looking at the displays and much, much more.

The key in both online and on-site situations is to collect usable data that will give insights into shopping behavior and help the retailer make better marketing and CX decisions.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

A great use of technology — but gee, don’t store managers already know this stuff? Don’t they notice things like bottlenecks, crowded and uncrowded areas and dead zones? Also, a store’s dead zone may be a dead zone for good reason — products that are needed but of limited appeal, a space not easily entered or exited, etc.

Jon Polin
BrainTrust

Nice to see e-commerce technology once again pushing brick-and-mortar innovation to catch up. The in-store heat mapping is definitely a step in the right direction for in-store intelligence. It’s still just a first step, though. Stores now can know traffic patterns but not yet the depth of detail that is offered online but not offline. For example, heat mapping may tell that the cereal aisle is heavily trafficked, but it barely tells how many people picked up a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes without buying it. And it certainly can’t tell what cereal all those customers did buy after picking up a box and not buying it. Most importantly, while this in-store technology helps improve the understanding of “what” is happening in stores, it doesn’t yet address the $64,000 question for retailers and manufacturers — the “why” behind what is happening in stores. The convergence of online and in-store capabilities is happening but still has a long way to go.

Ross Ely
BrainTrust

Heat mapping techniques can provide some valuable information, but retailers have to be careful to respect shoppers’ privacy in their stores. Many shoppers will be uncomfortable with the knowledge that their every move is being tracked by image-sensing cameras and facial scanners.

Shoppers are accustomed to having their online activity tracked, but they like to feel anonymous inside physical stores. Retailers should be careful to preserve this sense of privacy as they experiment with heat mapping technology.

Frank Riso
BrainTrust
I have seen this type of technology before and also the ability to see mobile devices that have their Wi-Fi turned on while shopping in a store. I do believe the most recent advances in Wi-Fi access points have the feature. Many of the benefits were mentioned, but think of the department store that no longer needs to man the men’s department on Monday morning unless the system detects a customer who needs assistance. Labor savings. Also redirecting staff from a slow department to a busy department to help with the large amount of traffic. Customer service improvement for sure. A supermarket that sees a big increase in traffic in their last aisle and can now man more registers to handle the pending rush at the front end. Now lets add the fact that we can know what a customer is looking at, say in a consumer electronics store, when they decide to walk away. Why not use Wi-Fi or beacons to send an alert to the shopper offering more points or a small discount if the item is purchased today? Too many shoppers visit the stores to see the items and then go online to buy them. Why not… Read more »
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Retailers are inundated with data. Heat maps and in-store analytics (dwell, zone conversion, queue management, etc.) all offer additional and potentially interesting insights. However, none of this data is worth anything unless it’s acted upon in a meaningful way. And that’s the problem. In my experience, many retailers struggle with the basics of analyzing and applying insights from basic store traffic and conversion data (two foundational metrics every retailer must understand), so I’m skeptical that many retailers can extract real benefit from these more nuanced/complex data sets like heat maps and other in-store analytics. Furthermore, in smaller footprint stores, these types of insights have limited value. Every retailer should think about how they can use and, importantly, apply insights from data, but before they get too carried away with the shiny new data they should focus on leveraging the basics. Heat maps are not a game-changer.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Heat mapping is a good tool however far from an equalizer. Retailers have always done a pretty good job with cameras and the eyeballs of store workers to see how customers are navigating the stores.

The real equalizer comes in the form of serving the customer. Online, with the right content, the consumer can ask and have questions answered, read comments and jump to other sites to check out pricing all in an effort to decide on a purchase. Often, when they come to the store, they have something else/more in mind. Heat mapping is not going to solve this and, IMHO, may be an unnecessary expense on its own.

But that’s just my 2 cents.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Regardless of the technology (or lack thereof as per Ryan’s story!) used, all the insights are worthless unless the retailer links these insights to conclusions and is prepared to make the changes necessary. These technologies offer great graphics and something to talk about but nothing of value to the shopper ever emerges. While I love and have used many of these technologies I’ve modified my point of view. I am now drawn more to leveraging some of these technologies to simplify and support the broader shopping experience from factory all the way through to a happy customer. Use little data instead of Big Data. Instead of adding more data the challenge is to leverage technology to minimize the data necessary to provide the maximum benefit to the shopper, the brand and the store. There are too many dashboards and not enough steering wheels!

Frank Poole
Guest
7 months 29 days ago

” … adds some science to in-store merchandising.”

No, it doesn’t. But it promises something that smells vaguely like science, and so will no doubt be snapped-up by senior management with zero background in science, technology or methodology.

Chris Weigand
Guest
7 months 29 days ago

We use predictive heat mapping as a retail design tool. Heat mapping helps us focus on what we want the consumer experience to be. One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want every spot to be hot or cold or everything neutral. Set up your retail experience for flow and provide moments where people can dwell, as well as transition and grab & go opportunities. It’s okay to have “cold spots” in your store. Just because no one is standing in front of something doesn’t mean it can’t benefit the overall experience. If you chase heat mapping without an overall strategy you’ll spin your wheels and waste your time. Heat mapping, both predictive and actual, is one of many tools to use in retail design. Great heads up. Thanks.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Heat mapping is a good tool to identify bottlenecks and improve merchandise positioning, but it doesn’t provide insights on individual customer behaviors. Integrating facial sensing with heat maps provides a greater understanding of customer sentiment, but there are additional technologies that can provide more actionable customer insights.

With the use of beacons, Wi-Fi and other location-based services, retailers can identify unique, individual customer paths. For loyal customers that have a relationship with the brand (loyalty program members) who opt into location services, retailers can combine their physical path and location in the store with what they browse and ultimately purchase. In addition, once they identify these loyal customers, they can offer guided selling based on customer context (what’s in her closet, what she previously purchased, what she browsed on the website and abandoned in her online cart).

While macro-level heat mapping is nice, micro-level customer tracking is the Holy Grail!

Doug Fleener
Guest

Technology is a good thing. Too much technology is not a good thing. I feel this almost falls somewhere in the middle. I’m with some of the other comments … it seems that most managers/executives already know their hot and cold spots. I do think you could learn some interesting trends on the impact of different products and brands.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Data does not equal actionable information. Actionable information is of no value without understanding. Understanding makes you feel good, but is worthless without proper execution. Heat mapping is a data collection tool, and like any tool it has to be properly utilized to have value.

Vahe Katros
Guest
7 months 29 days ago
All retail is not the same and all in-store methods of analyzing what’s going on have different purposes — broadly, the data can support selling or service improvements. Let’s say I am using WiFi tracking to identify dwell time information because that’s a KPI that is important to me — I might want people to either stay longer or get out quickly. What retail sub-segments does this apply to? Let’s say that abandonment is a KPI I care about — as in I sell expensive stuff, in expensive rental locations, and acquisition is expensive and not to be squandered. If I see this pattern, of people leaving — and its cool that it’s anonymous — what might I do? While the focus among early conversations in this space relate to promotions and shelf level stuff, I think executing on that in the store is too complex to act on (and expensive to implement; that’s where lab stores come in, but I digress…). I really like in-store data as a service innovation tool or even near term as a way to improve the in-store experience (think improved sales per square foot). There are firms doing some interesting stuff here and you… Read more »
Jason Thompson
Guest
7 months 29 days ago
As a provider of such solutions to retail for many years, I can tell you that real long-term value is extracted only after much trial and error. This is due in part to the hype and inflated claims by developers of analytics software who push the idea of elaborate systems paying for themselves in every conceivable retail environment. Counting works, and — as others noted — is a critical metric for stores. Heat mapping works — to a degree — but the insights gained often justify only partial deployment across a chain, especially when you consider the cost of syncing the systems/data with numerous floor plans and changing planograms. Gender, age, and mood detection are bleeding edge — and borderline creepy. The accuracy is mediocre at best, so IMO, these are only worth considering in very specific cases. Despite all of this, I’m optimistic about the future of such tech, since it gets better every year. We’ve helped pilot Wi-Fi analytics systems, BLE beacons, stereoscopic cameras, cloud video analytics, and a host of others — and they all have significant limitations. There is no perfect way to analyze brick and mortar shoppers — but every retailer has the challenge of… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There are too many dashboards and not enough steering wheels!"
"A great use of technology — but gee, don’t store managers already know this stuff?"
"Heat mapping techniques can provide some valuable information, but retailers have to be careful to respect shoppers’ privacy in their stores."

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