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We're about to scratch the real-world data itch

Mobile location tools will finally provide analytics from the physical realm

Since virtually all of my work is done on the web, I’ve grown accustomed to granular information. Even a casual look at web traffic reveals insight. I can see the topics that strike a nerve with visitors. I can pick out new or unusual traffic sources. I can even see how usability and design influence click-throughs.

Yet, all that goes away in the real world. My parents, for example, have owned the same retail store in the same location for more than 20 years. They have strong relationships with regular customers and they’re committed to their local community. Despite all this experience, many of their decisions are still based on hunches. They don’t have much data and their feedback mechanisms are limited to word of mouth and occasional coupon campaigns.

O'Reilly Where 2010 ConferenceBut what if my parents — or any small business owner, for that matter — could gather hard data that showed foot traffic broken down by months, weeks, days and times? What if they could experiment with product display hot spots and analyze the sales results? What if they could entice customers back to their store with customized offers?

Mobile location services may soon make this sort of real-world analytics possible — and not just for the big guys. Foursquare, which we recently profiled here on Radar, is already rolling out an analytics dashboard that will give business owners data about the people who check in to their establishments. That’s a huge first step, and I imagine other location services will follow suit with their own analytics packages. Within a year — maybe even six months — we’ll see a lot more discussion around local SEO and mobile-based social search. And I won’t be surprised at all if mobile bar code/image scanners transform from fun fringe apps to core functionality, especially if associated data can be harnessed and analyzed. Put all this together and it feels like we’re on the verge of finally scratching that real-world data itch.

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  • DavidS

    Very interesting post.

    I think that large retail operations like Tesco have been doing this for a number of years, with location transmitters embedded in their shopping carts. The visitor “path” data (i.e. movement throughout the store, long pauses in the desserts aisle) is then transmitted to point of sale systems when a purchase takes place, coupon data is captured, etc and assigned to a specific customer with his loyalty card ID. Then they export this data into SAS to do some very sophisticated customer lifecycle analysis to figure out what they can do to retain existing customers and encourage them to buy more during each visit to the store.

    It had never occurred to me that mobile handset data could be used for similar applications. Not sure I’m comfortable with the idea at all.