There was a time that the only way retailers could know for certain which areas of their store were favourites with shoppers was by the wear and tear of the carpets in front of displays, and the relative dishevelment of the displays themselves.
But increasingly sophisticated customer-tracking technology has, mercifully, made waste of such primitive attempts to understand how we shop.
Spurred on by Apple’s iBeacon, a recently introduced customer location-sensing innovation that can send a whack of data points to proximate shoppers, a slew of new tools stand by to enhance the retail experience of both sides of the shopping equation.
Among the coolest is technology that produces heat maps which track the presence of shoppers via images picked up by in-store security cameras. Hot colours, like red and orange, reveal those parts of the store’s geography in which shoppers have particularly lingered. Cool colours, a green and blue, expose those areas that have hosted scant traffic.
In the illustrative example that’s making the current digital rounds — courtesy of active-in-the-field heat-map startup Prism Skylabs — a certain stretch on a rack of dress shirts at a San Francisco clothing boutique glows red with attention. Further down the line, the garments pulse with ice-blue disinterest. The deeper the hue, the longer a shopper has lingered or the more a piece of clothing has been handled.
Not surprisingly, this particular stream of progress has some folks anxious about the potential threat to their privacy it presents. It’s why the Future of Privacy Forum has called for merchants riding it to follow an emerging code of conduct requiring full disclosure about its use. But privacy concerns, say heat maps’ proponents, should be purged by the inherent wipedown to which this technology subjects its human players. No shopper is identifiable inside the swooshes of colour.
Heat-mapping technology grants new powers of understanding around what’s capturing shoppers’ attention — and what isn’t. On-the-ball retailers can use it fruitfully to make store fixture choices and merchandising decisions that are hotter than ever.