, ,

lo-res_157740588-sOnline retailers have a distinct advantage over traditional brick-and-mortar stores: They can easily track a customer’s activities to help drive future sales. Metrics such as cart abandonment, a history of items viewed, and sponsored content click rates can all be used to help online retailers customize the shopping experience for users and hopefully increase sales.

But Zebra Technologies aims to level the playing field for brick-and-mortar retailers by introducing a new high-tech system that allows offline retailers to gather real-time information about a consumer’s shopping experience. The company installs sensors grids throughout the store, then uses video, mobile device signals, and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to track how customers interact with products and packages. This information then gets fed into a software program that provides the retailer with real-time analytics. Two major mass retailers currently are testing the technology; Zebra Technologies hopes to generate even more interest with a display at an upcoming “Big” show by the National Retail Foundation.

Confronted with concerns that the new system constitutes a potential invasion of privacy, Zebra Technologies offers assurances that the technology is designed to enhance the customer’s shopping experience. For a customer’s personal device to be tracked by the system, the customer must opt-in affirmatively. The company hopes to drive consumer engagement by offering greater convenience to those who choose to use the mobile application, in the form of coupons, store information, or shopping lists.

Zebra Technologies also believes that its system can drive down the cost of goods, because retailers can use the technology to prevent theft. For example, security alerts can be set if certain items move through the store in an unusual fashion or quantity. A shopper with 20 pairs of jeans in his or her cart may trigger a security alert. The system also can be used to evaluate and increase employee performance by logging how long each employee spends in a particular area of the store or engages with a customer.

The new system, which Zebra Technology hopes will be a “game changer” for offline stores nationwide, is the company’s first foray into the retail space. However, the company has a long history of success in the healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics. It currently uses its RFID technology to help the National Football League track and analyze player movements on the field.

And while the company is excited about the opportunities that its RFID technology and other sensor data might afford retailers, it also is eager for retailers to piggyback off its system, to do even more. With this in mind, Zebra Technologies has decided to make its application programming interface public, enabling retailers to write their own applications that can be customized to meet their specific needs.

Discussion Question:

  1. Is this system a “game changer” for brick-and-mortar stores? Why or why not?

Source: Jack Neff, “Bringing Online-Style Shopper Tracking to Stores? It May Be Closer Than You Think.,” Advertising Age, January 10, 2017