In-Store Measurement Technologies: Finding the Right Technology for Your Space
By Gary Angel|
October 9, 2018
There are four or five different ways to collect geo-location data about customer/shopper journeys. Camera, Wifi, Passive Sniffer, Mobile App, and Active RFID all have unique characteristics that make them well suited to certain stores and use-cases. Our DM1 system is an open-data platform – meaning we routinely take data from every kind of geo-location source. And because the platform is so powerful, we see up-close the warts, blemishes and virtues of each. I covered some of the strengths and weaknesses of those technologies in previous posts. But even those posts are quite detailed, the technology landscape continues to evolve, we’ve accumulated more experience in a variety of store formats and sizes, and I wanted to tackle the topic less from an examination of each technology and more from the perspective of store types and formats.
Large Format Stores
For shopper measurement purposes, anything well above the 10K sq. foot range fits into this bucket. Large stores have distinct drawbacks and advantages. Yes, surprisingly, there are some significant advantages to being big when it comes to geo-location. From a measurement perspective, increased size usually means less demand for precise location accuracy. That makes technologies like Passive Sniffer and even Wifi potentially viable measurement options. If shoppers mostly use carts, this also opens up Active RFID tagging as an option. On the other hand, the amount of hardware necessary to cover a large format store can be daunting, driving up the initial cost of installation. Large Format Stores are often the most interesting from a broad journey measurement perspective – meaning the understanding the flow from area to area is a high-priority and a natural use-case for shopper measurement. In addition, these stores are mostly standalone so they aren’t afflicted with challenges around pass-by traffic and counting shoppers in adjacent stores or outside areas. Finally, most large format stores are blessed with large, distinct cash-wraps – making queue measurement quite a bit easier.
Technologies to Consider
Wifi: Despite low positional accuracy and an Android-biased sample, Wifi offers almost absurd convenience and cost benefits to large format stores. It supports full journey measurement and can be easily scaled out fleet-wide. And if you’ve gone whole hog and gotten really modern and expensive Wifi with hyper-location capabilities, you actually have a pretty solid measurement platform.
Passive Sniffers: Improve both the accuracy and sample size of Wifi with the same ease of journey measurement. Sniffers can also support reasonable queue measurement in a large format store with a sizable and distinct cash-wrap.
Active RFID: Cart-based tracking removes any privacy implications to measurement and it can be done VERY accurately. Admittedly, tracking carts isn’t quite the same as tracking people but the combination of accuracy and privacy can be compelling. This also makes for EXCELLENT queue measurement since it inherently solves group and congestion problems.
Mobile App: Especially if your App does indoor wayfinding, you’d be crazy not to add geo-location measurement.
Camera: Cameras are more expensive that competing solutions and in large stores are very challenged in terms of full-journey measurement. You can consider face recognition and point-to-point measurement, but you’ll probably be restricted to small areas of the store.
If your store is in the 3-10K square foot range, you’ll find yourself in something of a measurement gray area where the appropriate measurement technology is particularly unclear. For stores this size, Wifi isn’t positionally accurate enough to be useful. Likewise, most stores in this range aren’t cart oriented – so Active RFID isn’t an option. Nor is your App likely to be used for indoor way-finding. That doesn’t mean App measurement isn’t appropriate, but it does mean you’ll measure a smaller set of App users and capture less of their behavior. For this type of store, the viable options are really Camera and Passive Sniffer. Depending on your ceiling height (higher is better) and where you fall in this range, getting full camera coverage can be prohibitively expensive and will also challenge the journey measurement capabilities of a matrixed video solutions. On the other hand, your store areas are small enough that differentiation and store pathing using Passive Sniffers will be similarly challenged.
Technologies to Consider
Camera: Particularly at the low-end of this range (and if you’re blessed with high-ceilings), camera is potentially a very good option. It will give you the positional accuracy to make fine-drained differentiation at the section level and it will support accurate queue measurement.
Passive Sniffers: You can deploy a high number of sniffers to get better positional accuracy and still have a significantly lower up-front cost than camera. But you’ll miss the detailed path tracking that comes from cameras high FPS rates vs. the casual ping rates smart-phones deliver and you probably can’t rely on Sniffers for queue measurement.
Mobile App: We think geo-location in your Mobile App is still worth enabling – especially if you have significant in-store use-cases. It’s also an excellent way to tackle Associate tracking if your Associates carry Android or IoS (or Windows) devices.
Wifi with Hyperlocation: Traditional Wifi geo-location using trilateration based on signal strength just doesn’t cut it for stores in this class. But with angle of arrival techniques (which take a special antenna), you can achieve quite good accuracy.
Small Format Stores
Stores that are in the 1K-3K square foot range are usually an easier call from a measurement perspective. At this size, shopper measurement has to position the shopper precisely in the store or you can’t understand the real journey. Only camera and mobile app deliver the necessary positional accuracy to do that – and since the range of Mobile App use-cases is limited, you may find that camera is your obvious solution. The good news is that at this format size, camera’s cost issues are less burdensome and small format stores won’t challenge the ability of camera systems to matrix zones together.
Technologies to Consider
Camera: The obvious choice for small format stores, camera delivers highly accurate tracking both in terms of sample (near 100%) and positional accuracy (down to a foot or two). In a 1000 square foot store, you may only need 2-3 cameras, so the cost can actually be pretty reasonable.
Very Small Format Stores
If camera is the likely solution for stores in the 1-3K range, it must even more appropriate for very small format stores under 1K square foot, right? Well, yes and no. If you have a 500-600 square foot store, camera will certainly provide a very good and highly appropriate measurement solution. But the size of these stores also limits the utility of journey measurement. So you’ll pay $2k for hardware but you might not get much more out of that hardware than you would from a $60/month door counting solution. Unless you have specific journey use-cases, if you’re a small format store, you should probably consider either traditional door-counting or our new standalone measurement solution for small and very small stores: Insight Brick. The Brick is based on sniffer technology, but it’s designed to be zero-installation and provides a significantly deeper and richer set of metrics than traditional door-counting. It’s also a great solution for use-cases like promotion measurement (attribution), events, conferences, auto-dealers, libraries and other spaces that can benefit from tracking but don’t need detailed journey analytics.
Technologies to Consider
Camera: Video camera will completely do the job for a very small format store. It provides comprehensive, positionally accurate measurement. The only question you have to ask is whether your measurement use-cases justify the hardware cost.
Insight-Brick: Plug in a Brick and you get traffic trends, integrated weather, day-time parting, and repeat visitor tracking. High-level metrics – sure – but it’s an order of magnitude deeper than door counting for pretty much the same price point. You don’t even have to offer Wifi to your customers (which they mostly don’t want anymore anyway).
Picking the Right Technology
As you can see, format has huge implications for technology. Maybe that will change. As technologies improve, an eventual winner may emerge across every store type. For now, though, the lines of demarcation and the issues to think about are starkly different. So if you’re thinking about store measurement, start with store format and you’ll be able to narrow down the set of alternatives (maybe down to 1!) and focus on the differences between the appropriate solutions. And, of course, our DM1 platform works with ALL of these solutions. So you never have to compromise on the analytics platform for all that cool data you’ll collect! If you’d like to see geo-location data in action for real, drop me a line and we’ll schedule a demo!