New Tech: How In-Store WiFi Can Drive Shopper Insights

March 6, 2014 by Dave Haynes


I spent the last couple of days wandering the aisles of a digital tech trade show in Toronto called DX3 Canada.

From the context of digital signage, I couldn’t make any sound argument that buyers of that tech needed to be there. Despite what the pic suggests, it was BUSY (think this was taken pre floor hours).

Brands and retailers thinking and worrying about how digital is disrupting retail would have seen and learned quite a bit. It’s an all-encompassing show that had everyone from mobile POS guys and major credit card companies in booths to companies that do SEO and online advertising analytics.

There were also, as always, companies either too stupid or too self-involved to actually declare what they did on their trade show stands. I suppose that might be done on the notion that it will trigger questions and conversations, but it will also cause all kinds of people to just keep on walking. At least HINT at what you do. Makes me crazy.

There were a few takeaways for me, the first I’ll explore here, the others in separate posts.

The video analytics people that continue to come into the digital signage market should keep an eye on a new breed of retail analytics guys who do much of what the video guys do, but at less cost, and in ways that are less disconcerting. They also layer in additional and integrated capabilities like push and pull marketing.

I spent time with a couple of companies that use WiFi to measure how many people come jnto an area, how long they stay and what they do.


One of the companies – AisleLabs – simply leverages the existing WiFi infrastructure in a retail or facility setting, and if that’s not feasible (or the IT guys say “No freakin’ way”), they add in low cost WiFi sensors.

The Toronto startup describes its offer this way: Cloud-based in-store analytics to understand the behavior of your customers

Actionable insights on visitors inside and outside your stores. Visualize first time vs. repeat visitors, customer loyalty, dwell times, walking paths, real-time heat-maps, and the complete conversion funnel. Set and compare the performance of your campaigns. 

An easy to use cloud based interface provides a real-time view across all stores. Slice and dice metrics across your properties in ways it makes sense for your business. Track key objectives across all locations and obtain complete visibility on shopping behavior.

That all happens by picking up WiFi-enabled devices that come into a store or facility, and Aislelabs says two-thirds of people have their WiFi active on their phones, so it is a very solid sample.

The company then uses Bluetooth Low Energy to beacons to do permission-based marketing to smart devices, something I am much less enthused about, but good to have in the mix if you are selling a solution that helps retailers understand what’s going on and then provides actionable tools.


What intrigued me is how this went beyond video analytics that will give you a sense of audience dynamics. IF, big IF, the retailers have it together to marry the Aislelabs data with point of sale and other data it’s possible to start getting a much richer sense of how the store, its merchandising and messaging is working. It can inform things as diverse as staffing levels and where to position goods.

Very interesting stuff, and these guys were busy anytime I looked.

Another company, NYC-based Nomi, uses a blend of WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy beacons to measure how people move around a store. What was intriguing about Nomi was its use of low cost BLE “beacons” that acted both as sensors and transmitters. The beacons cost roughly $7/unit, so they could be littered around stores.


While Apple’s iBeacons are being touted as a way to push tailored marketing messages to people with related apps, Nomi is using their beacons as alternatives to NFC transmitters. The beacons behave differently based on proximity to a device and people can tap the beacons to download information, using BLE, in ways that feel very similar to NFC.

So the company, and I am simplifying the hell out of this, can do location analytics in ways similar to Aislelabs, but appears more driven by the engagement side of things. They don’t want to be the mobile engagement and loyalty service like a Shopkick, but instead provide the developer kit and infrastructure to let retailers do that and control the experience, instead of a third party.

Nomi describes its special sauce this way:


Nomi is the only micro-location platform to offer every tool you need to measure, analyze and optimize every aspect of your store including marketing, loyalty, labor and operations.

There were a couple of other companies doing interesting work, but I didn’t get to them.

The whole BLE push marketing thing is a tough one, but the analytics side is interesting as heck because for what seems like very low capex and monthly costs (I’ll let the vendors answer the $$$ stuff), it was possible to kit out stores and really get a sense of what’s happening.

The insights can help optimize in-store messaging, and all that data, getting generated in near real time, has the potential to directly influence and trigger content.

Some video analytics companies are just coming on the scene, and it seems like they’re already being disrupted. Crazy times.

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