Can smartphone tracking tools revitalize brick-and-mortar retail?

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Whether on a shopping mission or merely killing time before a meeting, your wandering around the shops has more of an impact that you might imagine. Those window displays and in-store product placement – dresses in one corner and jewelry in another – are all the result of detailed studies of customer behavior (that’s you).

Traditionally, to know what shoppers were thinking, analytics for brick and mortar stores would have been the domain of men and women with clipboards, on the shop floor, pursuing customers: “Why did you come here today? What are you looking for?” For many shoppers it’s a hassle to be stopped for “no more than five minutes I promise,” and be obliged to reveal information about their retail choices.

For brand and store managers, to digitally follow the exact journey of a shopper then optimize the store accordingly is a luxury that brick and mortar stores do not have, says Tarek Naaman, Managing Partner at Quadron, a Beirut-based company that specializes in retail analytics. 

Naaman says that traditional data gathering, including marketing campaigns and dip-stick surveys, often can’t provide sufficient information when it comes to key decisions that a retail business needs to make, especially as this kind of data gathering happens at best once or twice a year. The key, as with e-commerce, is to have a system that lets you know at any given moment, what shoppers are doing.

Quadron, which has been operational and on the market since January, offers to clients a data gathering system that requires no clipboards and comes at a minimal cost. Using small sensors that are fitted to the walls of a store, customer’s phones (provided they are WiFi enabled) will be tracked throughout the store, helping retailers get into the heads of every customer who walks into a store, whether or not they make a purchase, or even have any interaction with staff.

“Retailers want to know what those people did while they were in the store,” says Naaman. “Being able to track their movements down to half a meter means we can extrapolate a lot of intelligence, giving a very accurate idea of how people interact with the store.”

Quadron’s sensors, it should be noted, do not reveal any personal information whatsoever about the phone’s owner, in the process of data collection. 

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“When it comes to our products, we’re like Google Analytics, [as] there is real time access to the data,” says Namaan, who runs the company with partners Marwan el Tibi, Nazmi Kahil, and Rami el Zain. Like Google Analytics, Quadron sensors facilitate the collection and analysis of a diverse range of data points, for instance, a brand manager can look at the aggregated data of all their brands, a store manager can analyze multiple in-store data sets, and the company’s head of sales can see all sales data together in one place. 

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The analytics provided by this method also offer a better conversion rate for the client, says Namaan. As an example, say 1,000 people enter a store and only 10 purchase something. The reality of this statistic, when you look at how the people have moved around the store, how long they have spent in the different areas of the store, is that maybe only 500 of them were actually relevant customers. The Quadron customer in question now has data on only the relevant customers, data that will actually help improve how they sell. 

But what about why a person entered the store? A WiFi signal isn’t going to tell a retailer that Person A went to Shop B because they were on the hunt for the perfect skinny jeans. Namaan acknowledges that to know why a person entered a store in the first place would require offline research (read: human interaction). However, when you consider that regional smartphone penetration is at about 78%, and of that over 90% of smartphones are WiFi enabled, Quadron will be able to track a large portion of people who enter a store, generating usable data sets. “We’re not here to tell an owner that today there were 152 people in his store,” says Namaan, “We’re there to tell him what 80% of them were doing in the store.”

From a background that includes teaching graphic design at Beirut’s Lebanese American University, to online marketing, this is not Namaan’s first startup. Helping companies improve their business is not a new project for the team: back in 2006 Namaan, Kahil, and el Zain set up, providing cloud products for SMEs operating mainly in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. 

Quadron is new on the market but the team has already signed big retail clients in Lebanon, whom for the moment they wish to keep under wraps. For the near future, Naaman is keen to roll out in the rest of the MENA region as soon as possible.

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