Data Collection Underfoot: Sensors as Retail Data Source

The next phase in data collection is right under your feet. Online clicks give retailers valuable insight into consumer behavior, but what can they learn from footsteps? It's a question Milwaukee-based startup Scanalytics is helping businesses explore with floor sensors that track people's movements.

The sensors can also be used in office buildings to reduce energy costs and in nursing homes to determine when someone falls. But retailers make up the majority of Scanalytics' customers, highlighting one of several efforts brick-and-mortar stores are undertaking to better understand consumer habits and catch up with e-commerce giant Amazon.

Physical stores have been at a disadvantage because they "don't have that granular level of understanding as to where users are entering, what they're doing, what shelves are not doing well, which aisles are not being visited," said Brian Sathianathan, co-founder of Iterate Studio, a small Denver-based company that helps businesses find and test technologies from startups worldwide.

But it's become easier for stores to track customers in recent years. With Wi-Fi -- among the earliest available options -- businesses can follow people when they connect to a store's internet. One drawback is that not everyone logs on so the sample size is smaller. Another is that it's not possible to tell whether someone is inches or feet away from a product.

Sunglass Hut and fragrance maker Jo Malone use laser and motion sensors to tell when a product is picked up but not bought, and make recommendations for similar items on an interactive display. Companies such as Toronto-based Vendlytics and San Francisco-based Prism use artificial intelligence with video cameras to analyze body motions. That can allow stores to deliver customized coupons to shoppers in real time on a digital shelf or on their cellphones, said Jon Nordmark, CEO of Iterate Studio.

With Scanalytics, Nordmark said, "to have (the...

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