Next time you go to the shopping mall, you might want to turn your cell phone off. Why? Dozens of major shopping centers nationwide are implementing shopper-tracking technology that tracks shoppers’ movements from store to store by monitoring the signals from their cell phones.
While U.S. malls have long tracked how crowds move throughout their stores, this is the first time they’ve used cell phones. The tracking system data that’s collected is supposed to remain anonymous, but obtaining that information naturally comes with privacy concerns. The tracking system data knows who you are and where you’ve been.
The tracking system works through a series of antennas positioned throughout the shopping center that capture the unique identification number assigned to each phone (similar to a computer’s IP address), and tracks its movement throughout the stores.
The goal is for stores to answer questions like: How many Nordstrom shoppers also stop at Starbucks? How long do most customers linger in Victoria’s Secret? Are there unpopular spots in the mall that aren’t being visited?
Computerized shopper-tracking technology is nothing new. Malls have been tracking shoppers for years through people counters, security cameras, heat maps and even undercover researchers who follow shoppers around.
But critics and some industry analysts worry about the broader implications of this kind of tracking system technology.
Over 15 years a computerized shopper tracking system was capable of monitoring traffic data and analyzing shopper behavior, long before cell phones were everywhere, so one must ask: ‘Why do they need to track my mobile phone? Is this a violation of privacy? Aren’t there other ways to gather the data without monitoring my personal whereabouts?’
A computerized shopper tracking system can tell retailers and their landlords:
- Total Traffic by Entrance. Provide a count of the number of shoppers using a specific entrance and its percentage of the total mall’s traffic.
- Total Traffic by Time of Day. Effectively position tenants based on their operational background. For example, a tenant that receives most of its business from 2 to 4 p.m. would be best positioned by an entrance that enjoys similar traffic patterns.
- Total Traffic by Day. Know daily shopping strengths and weaknesses.
- Comparisons over Extended Time Periods. Demonstrate long-term traffic trends and help evaluate management’s performance in delivering shoppers to the tenants.
- Average Shopping Time. Evaluate the type of customers attracted to the mall based on the time spent shopping.