street view of a store front in LA

Transforming the Retail Customer Experience with In-store Analytics

While online retailers have the advantage of tracking cookies and web analytics tools to calibrate different aspects of an online shopping experience, brick and mortar retailers aren’t as lucky. They have had to depend on much erratic customer insights.
However,in today’s date, even physical retailers are required to hold up to some very high expectations in shopping experiences.

In fact, in order for physical stores to remain relevant, they have to focus on improving the quality of the experience they deliver. This has led to the creation of entire businesses in retail experience innovation.

One of the ways a brick and mortar retailer can provide a quality experience is through the employment of in-store analytics that provides insights into the behavior of the customers and uses that information to engage with their customers as they shop. The use of in-store analytics has revolutionized how retailers understand their customers and how they communicate with them.

How will in-store analytics build up communication between shoppers and retailers?

In order to answer that question it is important to know how In-store analytics works.
For example, when a furniture store to offers free Wi-Fi, it may seem a bit strange.
Actually when the Wi-Fi is enabled on one’s phone, the device sends out a connection request every few seconds on every Wi-Fi channel available. It updates the list of the available networks after listening for a fraction of a second for a response to come back,

Interestingly, when a device probes the Wi-Fi spectrum, it broadcasts its unique MAC address to any device that’s listening. So, as one walks around in that furniture store, every Wi-Fi probe then acts as a beacon for the location. With multiple Wi-Fi access points available inside a single store, it becomes possible to considerably precisely locate each address. As far as the owner of the device is concerned, this happens passively without having to actually join a Wi-Fi network.



Although nothing about a device’s owner is being shared, the retailer can build a picture of what individuals do as they walk around a store. Such as, the number of customers who went to the first floor, the time people tend to spend in a particular region, the waiting period of customers before they come back to the shop.

This aids in understanding the broader shopping habits and interceding with informed in-store customer communication. Instead of having communication with customer transpire at the convenience of the retailer, it can happen at the customer’s convenience. 

Sending an SMS to inform of a sale as an effective marketing tactic. Sending emails every month or even good old direct post may increase customer movement towards a local store. However, a more customer-centric communication of a timely WhatsApp message offering assistance when the furniture store operator gets to know that the customer has spent over 20 minutes in the dining table department.

MAC address tracking to deliver a more personalised Customer Experience


Anonymously tracking a MAC address results in a more personalized customer communication and in understanding individual behavior in the retail experience. As the data increases, the MAC addressing question ceases to just be a randomly generated number and instead represents the behaviors of a real person. At this stage, there’s nothing to identify the individual who owns the phone but it’s possible to build a picture of who they are.

Whether gathered in multiple locations or over a longer time period in just one location, as the data builds it becomes useful in crafting more personalized communication, which can help increase sales and enhance the customer experience.

Relying on anonymized data can deliver only so much, though. And that brings us back to why the furniture store offers free Wi-Fi. As soon as someone signs up for that Wi-Fi, the store can associate the MAC address with whatever data they capture in the sign-up process. At the very least, that’s likely to be a name, email address and cellphone number. Again, that person never has to use the Wi-Fi: as long as they keep the same device, their MAC address and identity are linked.

Other retailers might not rely just on free Wi-Fi. They might have a loyalty or coupon-based mobile app that requires users to provide some personal data. Depending on the phone’s operating system, that app might be able to access the MAC address itself and make the connection for the retailer. Either way, retailers can incentivize shoppers to make their MAC address personally identifiable. And when that happens, communication can truly become personalized.

Respecting the shopper’s personal data

Either through inertia or without realizing it, most people publicly surfing the web are constantly being tracked. Sure, there are some loud voices of complaint but the vast majority of people accept it or don’t care.

As the company behind smart recycling bin advertisements in London and Nordstrom in the US discovered, people are less keen to have their physical location tracked. Even if it’s only an anonymized MAC address, such tracking could feel intrusive.

A value exchange for a richer retail experience


The answer, perhaps, is to take a tip from the loyalty schemes of large retailers: provide a genuine benefit to customers in exchange for gathering valuable data on their habits. Just as loyalty schemes such as Air Miles and Tesco Clubcard offer coupons, cashback, and exclusive store events, retailers can build similar value into retail location tracking and analysis. Rather than silently track customers, they can volitionally opt in to a mobile-phone enabled rewards program when they enter the store-a loyalty scheme for the 21st century.

Location tracking has the potential to transform how retailers communicate with their customers. It will provide the insight to know precisely when to engage and when to leave someone alone. However, it will work only if customers can see a tangible benefit to giving up some of their privacy.

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