Do brick and mortar retailers have a better sense of what their customers want and need? Since in-store customer service is all about face-to-face interaction, many would believe this to be true. But what about those consumers that come in just to browse, never saying a word and leaving without a purchase, what are they thinking or feeling? And while the store owner’s goal is to get to know each and every customer with the hope of gaining loyalty, sometimes the shopping rush shortens those personal interactions.
The truth is online retailers are the ones who have better access to customer data, including how long a shopper lingers on one category or product page, what items receive the most clicks, and how each shopper came to access the online store. Analysis of this data then helps the online retailer decide what products to increase inventory on, what marketing channels have been successful, what items to start marking down, and more. However, with the help of biometrics, brick and mortar merchants aren’t relying on their sales numbers at the end of each quarter, hoping to turn around their luck in the next. “Right now physical stores are only looking at dollars per person, dollars per store, and ignoring big problems until the numbers come in,” says Lora Cecere, an analyst at Altimeter Group in San Mateo, CA.
Biometric Technology for More Detailed Shopping Analysis
While some may perceive the approach of using hidden cameras as an intrusion of privacy, Bloomberg.com explains, “Since the 1970s, consumer behaviorists such as Paco Underhill have followed shoppers around stores and documented their behavior. By the 1980s, Underhill’s firm Envirosell was using hidden cameras to observe shopper habits.” Consumers may have heard of mystery shoppers performing undercover research of a store’s customer service, but shouldn’t be surprised if the retailers have also implemented undercover shoppers to evaluate consumer behavior (you never know who is in line next to you). However, retailers nowadays don’t have to hide cameras, as many customers expect to see them in store to monitor shoplifting. If retailers use the cameras to track how people move around, how long they stand in front of displays, and which products they pick up, it is an added bonus and profitable data for the store owner.
Other technology perhaps not as familiar to consumers is facial recognition software. Bloomberg.com notes, “The software doesn’t identify a person, but it would give retailers a better handle on customer demographics at specific stores and help them gear promotions to age and gender.” For instance, the data collected from such software has begun to refute conventional wisdom, like the fact that retailers often put high-margin merchandise near the store entrance, believing shoppers would more than likely take a look. Many did not.
Another technology providing retailers knowledge about their browsing costumer base are heat maps. Bloomberg.com explains, “The data is presented in two ways: a ‘heat map’ that assigns colors to stores depending on traffic and an ‘affinity map’ that allows retailers to click on a store and determine the probability of a shopper who went their visiting other stores in the mall.” While these maps are many times applied to larger shopping venues such as mall and outlets, they could potentially be useful for in-store data research. The resulting data could help with product placement throughout the store.