Modern retailers hope big data will support big insights on consumer behavior. Here’s a look at some of the tech behind the numbers.
by Matt Donahue
In the past, it was your money that retailers were after. Well, surprise, surprise: they still are. But these days, green ain’t the only color of currency in the industry… it’s black, white, has lots of numbers, statistics, facts, figures and looks oh-so-nice when compiled into an Excel spreadsheet.
It’s data. And retailers want it. Lots of it. Online data. Offline data. Metadata. Microdata. Data you didn’t even know counted as data. And as technology advances, they’re finding more and more ways to collect, analyze and interpret it—all in hopes that they can use it to “decode” the modern consumer.
So here are five technologies that are giving big companies a big edge in big data… kind of like, “big brother.”
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
RFID is pretty simple: you put a tiny transmitter in anything you want to track—like the merchandise in your store. First and foremost, RFID can give retailers a running tab on what’s flying off the shelves and what’s not. Certain boutique stores are also using it to enhance the consumer experience in interesting ways.
Retail Location Analytics
Think of this as RFID for… people. “But wait, I don’t have a transmitter in my body!” No, but you’ve got one in your pocket: it’s called a smartphone. And it can be tracked—to the inch—inside a store, so retailers know how you shop, what you buy and precisely how much time you spend in the cat
Online Behavioral Targeting
Internet tracking cookies have been around for a while now. But new data aggregation techniques allow retailers to track individual browsing habits over time, and find patterns… which are then compared against the browsing habits of countless other web-goers, and segmented into generalized “consumer targets.”
Just so every pop-up, banner and YouTube ad you see really speaks to you… and so your browsing data can be sold to third parties for millions.
“Cookies?! HA! I’ll just turn off ‘cookies’ in my browser settings! Fight the power!” Sorry, pal—“super cookies” can’t be turned off. They’re embedded in the web content you’re viewing (like Flash content), so your browser’s security settings have no control over what they’re doing and who they’re talking to.
Big Data Exchange (BDEX)
This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of the new “data-conomy.” On BDEX, you can buy data on literally everything—and sell it, too. It’s like eBay for data (which, in turn, likely buys and sells consumer data on BDEX). Big data is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it proves that modern retail isn’t just about “the purchase” anymore—it’s about who, what, how many and how often. And, in the end, why.
Because, if retailers can answer that… they’ve got us—right by our wallets.
As a member of Seed’s copywriting team, Matt Donahue marries his love for creative writing with a keen interest in product innovation, technology and science. He’s a graduate of Seton Hill University’s “Popular Fiction” master’s program and writes whenever he can.