August 12, 2013
Your shopping mall just got a little smarter. Now there’s technology that allows stores to track customers movements through a store- where they stop, where they try on, when they buy- or what they look at before they walk out. It’s the same, in concept, to what retailers look at online: the customer path from the time a customer arrives, until the time they leave- what they add to cart, what they look at and for how long, and where they are when they decide to leave. Now stores can mine the same kind of measurable data: conversion (of those who come in, what percentage buys) and abandonment, and a glimpse into what’s generating interest as they walk through the store.
What could be controversial is that this tracking happens via your cellphone signal. If your wireless is on, the store software can ping your phone to keep track of where you are and what you’re doing. Is it an invasion of privacy? While it seems a little unnerving to be followed around like this, it’s really no different than what virtually every website does when you browse a site. And to be fair, we all know that there are abundant video cameras in stores and malls, so it’s not as if we couldn’t be watched before. As with website cookies, if you don’t like the tracking, you can turn it off- in this case, by turning off your phone’s wifi setting.
This technology gives stores the opportunity to better learn from what customers are doing- which, in concept- gives them the opportunity to improve the presentation to better serve customers. If they see that no one stops at the first sets of tables, or that certain racks get missed altogether, it might give them better ideas about how to re-configure the displays. By simply making what people want easier to find, they could sell more. So that could be a win-win.
The problem, as with web analytics, is that the data alone doesn’t give you the whole picture: now you know WHAT people are doing, but you don’t know WHY they’re doing it, or how they’re feeling while they’re doing it. This is still an important problem to solve- the things that make it hard to shop, like too tightly packed racks, or hard-to-find size labels, or a limited size range- these are things that affect my abandonment rate- but tracking my wifi will not reveal that. There’s no substitution for asking your customers what they think- not just the ones that buy- but the ones who don’t buy, too.
Next, we need to develop more sophistication in how we get that data. Surveys are okay for online shopping- but they are often long and tedious. Net-promoter surveys are great, because they ask just two questions: Would you recommend us to a friend? Why or why not?
What I want to see happen is the equivalent to the tapping a word on my kindle to see what it means: I want to see a way to provide feedback in context, in the moment- as it’s happening. That’s going to be the most meaningful information to get. Now that I think of it, when I notice a typo in a Kindle book, I wish there were a simple way to highlight it and send an alert, in the moment, in context. Amazon, take note.