Pushing the boundaries: What next for retail traffic analytics?

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by Mark King on 20-02-19

“Omni-channel is the new norm for large and small retail players,” pronounced Doug Gurr, Amazon’s UK country manager. Delivering the British Retail Consortium’s Annual Lecture in 2018, Gurr was characteristically upbeat about what the future holds for retail. He urged the British retail sector to plan carefully for change, embracing the opportunities – and he outlined many – without destroying the fantastic quality of service that stores and their talented managers and teams deliver. “There isn’t any other industry better placed for this challenge of progressing without leaving a generation behind,” he declared.

Experts like Gurr routinely predict that the long-term retail winners will be those with the best data-gathering tools, and keenest grasp of how to turn data into practical worth in an increasingly omni-channel setting, without losing sight of the core service offering.  Web traffic analytics and online customer behaviour insights are already making a valuable contribution. But what’s on the horizon when it comes to incoming tech that will elevate store traffic insight to the next level, driving performance in physical stores?

Time to get to know your high-value omni-channel customers

It’s well documented that omni-channel retailers are staking their future on having a competitive edge over online-only retailers, by leveraging their store assets and their people. It follows that these stores will evolve to be highly-digitized, with operations tightly aligned to data insight. Countless studies confirm that physical stores are worth investing in for the future, but that they must adapt to provide a 360 degree view of the customer, and the ability to engage digitally, as well as physically with loyal shoppers.

Harvard Business Review’s 2017 US study revealed that retailers’ omni-channel customers (the 73% who used multiple channels on their shopping journey) are more valuable on several counts. They spent an average of 4% more on every shopping occasion in the store, and 10% more online than single-channel customers. The more channels customers use, the more valuable they are. But who are they, and would you know your omni-channel customers if they walked into your store?

Bring in the biometrics

Facial recognition technology is already becoming available that will allow retailers to recognize loyal shoppers coming into their stores. VIP customer recognition could soon be part of the overall omni-channel marketing plan, so that when traffic cameras pick up a known face, the store is alerted to their presence, or a special voucher lands in their phone for an exclusive discount that day.

Facial recognition tech can deliver information on age, gender, ethnicity, even mood, perhaps giving insights into which customer groups like which elements of a new range or merchandise category. Loyalty marketing has the potential to initiate a whole new level of personalization, once online customers are identified in stores in this way. Biometrics that allow for auto-checkout are of particular interest, speeding up the path to purchase and boosting customer convenience in stores.

Marrying interior analytics to inventory

RFID product tagging has taken its time to reach mainstream retail operations, but developments are now coming thick and fast. Forward-looking retailers have been piloting RFID-based supply chain solutions for clothing, cosmetics and luxury goods for over a decade, with many moving to a more integrated IoT platform-based approach in recent years. The latest thinking is that by combining RFID product insight with in-store customer traffic data, retailers can learn in real-time how shoppers are interacting with inventory.

Retailers have the potential to learn which items are tried on but abandoned at the fitting room, for instance, possibly indicating a product or fit issue. Merchants can make better decisions on merchandise allocations to stores and identify replenishment needs across stores, and assess the effectiveness of product displays or promotions based on the interest of in-store shoppers. RFID technology used with inventory can open up many capabilities and opportunities to enhance the customer experience while shopping in store.

Blended data sets take customer insight to a new level

Data experts, including our analysts at ShopperTrak, are working with retailers to discover what becomes possible when third party data such as social media-generated, anonymized demographic data; online traffic data; web analytics; weather forecasting; and sales and labour data, come into play alongside traditional store traffic data.

With the right understanding of how to process and analyse these blended data sets, retailers are building out insights that will help them understand customers better, predict their behaviour, and improve both the overall customer experience, and their profitability.

Overcoming consumer concerns

Naturally there’s a lot of work to do around compliance (most recently with GDPR in Europe) and data protection. Retailers need to gain consumer trust when asking them to share their personal data, for instance signing up to an omni-channel marketing program.

Research shows that millennials are more comfortable than other age groups to share their personal information via mobile phones or websites, particularly if they are rewarded with price promotions or a more convenient experience.

I believe we’re likely to see more and more acceptance over time of sharing personal data for improved in-store service, if it means a more seamless and rewarding customer journey across multiple channels. Cookies follow us around in the online world to make our experiences more convenient and personalized. Consumers should be ready for similar wins in the physical retail space, if the brands they want to align with handle the education and communication of this competently – making sacrificing privacy worthwhile for shoppers.

Brick and mortar retail will replicate the online haven of consumer insight, enriching the customer experience just as visionaries like Doug Gurr describe. Traffic data is ready to play its part in this fascinating and fast-moving digital revolution, proving the worth of stores once and for all.

Read more posts by Mark King