Screens & Places: Is it creepy to track your customers’ every move?

1984_screenshotThe intersection between digital, social and physical experiences.

The other day I was running through the PATH system in Toronto, which is the largest underground shopping complex in the world connecting office tower to office tower. I was stopped by a woman holding an iPad wanting to ask me a few questions.

I’m sure you have all been approached at some point in a shopping centre or large retail outlet by someone wanting to ask you a few questions about your shopping experience. Why are you here today?  How often do you visit?  Did you buy anything?  How much did you spend? This data, combined with other sources of data, is used to help the shopping centres and its tenants determine traffic patterns, buying behaviors, store layouts, promotions and shopper marketing strategies.

For more than 15 years online marketers have tracked customers as they move in and out of branded websites, e-commerce properties, mobile apps and social properties. We have more tools (Google Analytics, Omniture, Facebook Insights and online surveys) to gather online data and take action in real-time. Savvy online marketers use this data to predict their customers’ every move in the digital space and to make changes on the fly to create a better online buying experience.

This got me thinking about how we track customer behaviour today and how digital technologies are disrupting traditional tracking methods. It also made me think about the “1984” Apple spot (a play on George Orwell’s noted novel Nineteen Eighty-Four) and the 2002 film Minority Report. Current technology is not perfect – and not to mention we all walk on a thin line when it comes to privacy – but let’s imagine the possibilities just for a minute.

Mobile

According to our AskingCanadians data, more than half of the Canadian population owns a smartphone. And, Gartner predicts that by the end of 2013 more people in Canada will access the web via their mobile device than their desktop.  People finally have the power of the PC in their pocket and are cutting the cord.  For marketers, this brings in a whole new dimension to tracking customer behavior in the physical world.  As the old saying goes, location is everything.  Mobile devices today have many, many sensors built into them.  Location-based services (LBS) are one of the most powerful capabilities mobile has to offer.  There are a variety of mobile tracking technologies available today — network-based, handset-based, SIM-based, hybrid and WiFi.

Whichever technology you deploy is really not the point.  The point is, what business today does not want to provide a more relevant and individualized experience for its customers?  Imagine knowing when your customer is going to just drop in. Or where they came from.  And maybe most importantly, where they’re going next.  Imagine you just left your favorite fashion retailer and you entered a nearby coffee shop and just before you paid, up pops a free coffee from that retailer saying thanks for dropping in.  How magical would that be?!

Video

Video cameras have become commonplace in society today.  Both public and private properties are being monitored 24/7 by the eyes in the sky.  Many retailers and shopping centres use CCTV footage to study shoppers’ behavior in-store.  Prism Skylabs uses sophisticated software to analyze video and produce heat maps of in-store traffic patterns.

Another interesting area is stitching together publicly free social media photos and videos of consumers’ path-to-purchase to better predict customer buying behaviors. At Delvinia, we produce customer journey maps for our clients using a data-driven approach.  Adding real photos and videos is a powerful way to paint a customer’s story and uncover those often hidden magical moments.

Sensors

It’s hard to pick up a tech journal these days and not see a story about the Internet of Things  and or wearable technology.  The concept of every objective, person and thing with its own unique ID is not a thing of fiction but very real. There are even smart materials that have sensor capabilities built in to detect a change in its environment, which then triggers some kind of action.  For example, this could apply to textiles, paints and wallpaper.

Sensors unlock an infinite number of possibilities to track customer behavior. Retail shelf sensors can let the brand know what product moves faster on what shelf and notify front line staff to move the product if necessary.  Health care providers in hospitals wear RFID badges to monitor movements within the hospitals to help prevent breakouts. Today, the Nike+ FuelBand knows when I need to exercise based on my movements.  And in the not-too-distant future, sensors will notify my mobile device that the milk in my fridge is out of date when I’m close to the grocery store, reminding me to pick up a new carton.

The opportunity

Now, more than any time in history, we have the opportunity to leverage customer data to create highly personalized, relevant and magical experiences. As the data flows in, the key is to act on it in, which can be very difficult due to the old and out-dated corporate structures many of us operate within. The power of tracking your customers’ every move is key to providing magical customer experiences. However, it hinges on one critical success factor – trust.

[Photo: Nineteen Eighty-Four screenshot]

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