With the dawn of the internet, Big Data has become a continual topic of discussion and development across the advertising industry. Collecting data and analyzing shopping and browsing behavior has mostly been made possible through online analytics. However, the traditional shopping experience is still central to many consumers, and the shopping habits which accompany this experience differ wildly from those exhibited during online shopping.
Therefore, it’s of little surprise that many companies are starting to offer physical analytics, especially in the retail space. But how does this work? One example is a company called Euclid, an American start-up which offers free & paid-for services, which can provide retailers with data collected via their in-store Wi-Fi service or through small devices, disseminated throughout the store. As reported by the Guardian, ‘any retailer – from a local coffee shop to a large department store – will be able to implement an analytics package to receive information such as footfall outside the store, engagement (how long customers spend inside stores) and whether customers are repeat shoppers, at no cost. Retailers will also be able to compare trends over time, which, for example, could be used to monitor the efficacy of a particular marketing campaign.’
However, retailers can only expect basic data if they sign up for the free service. The paid-for service offers retailers the opportunity to compare their data to other retailers in their group (though this is only an aggregated figure) and theoretically be able to follow certain, though anonymous, consumers from shop to shop, collecting data as they go using small devices placed at the entrance and exits of different stores. One reason Euclid is offering the free option is so they can collect and aggregate data immediately, therefore improving their ability to provide their data in context and therefore future profitability.
Nevertheless, there are problems associated with this type of data collection. For instance, this so-called ‘invisible tracking’ is often not communicated to consumers and so even if they wanted to opt out, many would not be aware of the process in the first place. In addition, if the data is being collected via Wi-Fi, it would require the consumer wishing to opt out to actively turn off the Wi-Fi option on their phone, making it more likely that most consumers would not bother, or just forget.
However, the retail sector is not the only area to experience physical analytics; the home is too. Nest Labs, Google’s latest acquisition, makes smart thermostats and smoke alarms which learn user behaviour and habits over time. These devices collect data within the home, as well as include ergonomic features such as remote control via the user’s Smartphone, energy saving features and self-testing abilities.
Some believe that Google’s acquisition of this company continues to demonstrate a shift into ‘Machine Learning’ (BBC) and the adaptation and inclusion of such devices into user’s lives (though, the potential for data gathering must be also alluring). Nevertheless, as per all physical analytics, such activity must be communicated to users or consumers if their data is going to be used or aggregated, however small the sign in-store or small the print found at the end of a contract.
Soon it would seem, all physical experiences will be recorded, analyzed and used by companies around us. Advertising is just one arena which already uses data in order target people more specifically, in our case to improve digital targeting and personalized marketing. Whereas now, consumers must only contend with digital adverts following them around on the internet, they may one day see these on the street or the home, as well as accessed through their smart devices. However, after the fallout from the NSA revelations last summer, privacy is the word on everybody’s lips and it remains to be seen how consumers will react to the next wave of data collection services.