The Unusual Way Retailers can Track How you Shop


E-commerce has done some amazing things for retail. Online shopping platforms allow for worldwide accessibility, omnichannel experiences, and best of all: analytics. The ammount of information retailers can draw from your page views, click patterns, and buying habits are staggering. And now, physical retail stores can get a taste of profit-driving data, thanks to a new tool, totally invisible to the average shopper: cameras equipped with heat mapping software.

Heat mapping technology (“hot” and “cold” zones for customer activity, not body heat) utilizes basic video images to visually illustrate the location and density of customers’ journeys through the store.

Many retail stores are noticing a downtick in performance the second half of this year, and without the same analytics tools offered by e-commerce, many of them are operating blindly. Advances in retail analytics allow store owners to see which items are ignored, which are being touched frequently, and those touched frequently, but not selling. Maybe the price is too high. Maybe the quality is poor. Maybe you’re out of stock in a popular size. With better insight into products that are getting more attention, retailers can optimize their stock and layout in order to identify which items are grabbing shoppers’ interests and reduce friction to the point of sale.

For example: From The Los Angeles Times

Two years ago, San Francisco candy chain Lolli and Pops rolled out a new box of assorted sweets — which initially flopped, said Marc Schwarzbart, vice president of inventory management and technology.

Many retailers would assume that either the product was a failure or that the price was too high. But by examining heat maps, Lolli and Pops discovered that fewer than 10% of shoppers were walking past the display holding those candies; a table was partially blocking that path.

After the table was moved a few feet, foot traffic rose to more than 30% of shoppers. “We saw a dramatic increase in sales,” Schwarzbart said. “It never had anything to do with the product or the price.”

Heat mapping technology for retail is still developing and will soon incorporate face censors, emotional queues, and smart device integration. However, it is already providing brands with unprecedented insights into buyer behavior and buyers’ journeys. Perhaps in the coming years, we will see the brick-and-mortar stores improve their customer experience, and generate more profits.