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5 Q’s on Data Innovation with Sharon Biggar

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Sharon Biggar is the CEO of Path Intelligence, a company which is bringing online analytics to the offline world by providing retailers with real-time intelligence about how people move within buildings. I asked Sharon to share with me her thoughts on how this type of data will improve offline experiences for consumers.

Castro: You have an incredibly novel product with FootPath.  Can you briefly explain what it does?

Biggar: FootPath enables retailers and malls to optimize their space to improve shopper profitability.  Until now it has been challenging for shopping centers and retailers to understand and quantify how shoppers moved through their physical spaces, but with our FootPath solution retailers and malls can understand how many shoppers there are, how long they stay and where they go within the mall or store. For example, if shoppers visit the menswear section do they also visit kids wear?  Or if they visit Gap do they also visit Sears?  What happens if the mall or store owner moves these products or stores, how do shoppers react?  Our solution helps retailers and malls to answer those questions.

Castro: What do retailers do with this information?

Biggar: There are three main ways that retailers use the data.  They use it to optimize their space and merchandise layout, to optimize where to place their staffing associates and they use it to measure the effectiveness of their marketing spend.  For example, one of our customers put in a temporary kiosk for Christmas gifts early in December.  The kiosk sold little and from our data we could see that very few shoppers went to that part of the store.  In response to our data, a week later the retailer moved the kiosk to a highly trafficked area of the store and put men’s suits where the kiosk had been.  Shopper traffic and sales in men’s suits remained constant, whilst traffic to the gifts area doubled and sales went up significantly.

Castro: How does this end up benefiting consumers?

Biggar: With better data malls and retailers can create better malls and stores.  For shoppers this means that:

  • bottlenecks are removed so their journey becomes hassle free;
  • customer service is improved as malls and retailers can tailor their staffing levels and the location of their staff to where the shoppers are; and
  • health and safety is improved.

For example, we have recorded more than one fire evacuation emergency within our client malls.  Our clients now have real (not modeled) data on how shoppers behave in that sort of emergency situation and can design their malls to make safer and faster exit routes as a result.

Castro: Besides shopping centers, what other types of venues are using FootPath?

Biggar: We focus on shopping centers, retailers and Main Streets, but our service is also in use in airports, train stations and stadiums and we have also deployed temporarily at a number of outdoor events.  For example, we measured pedestrian flow into and out of a Coldplay concert and we measured pedestrian traffic and the duration of visit at Melbourne’s New Year’s Eve fireworks and outdoor party.

Castro: I’m sure this technology will only continue to improve. How do you think in-store analytics will evolve over time?

Biggar: Firstly I believe in-store analytics will fundamentally change the nature of retail leases within malls.  At the moment retail leases often contain a top-up rent that is based on the revenue of that particular store.  However, this is becoming obsolete as shoppers move effortlessly between the physical store and the retailer’s online presence.  I believe this will be solved by the top-up element of the rent being charged on the basis of the number of people that the mall delivers to the retailer, rather than the sales at that particular store.

In the long-run I believe in-store analytics will be seamlessly integrated with online analytics.  As a shopper I want to enjoy the same level of customer experience online with any retail brand as I do at that retail brand’s physical store, and I don’t differentiate between the two.  It is odd therefore that we analyze these two interactions with the one brand in an entirely separate and distinct fashion.  I believe over time that will change and the experience as well as the analytics will be based around the shopper’s interaction with the brand wherever that may occur.

This interview was originally posted on datainnovationday.org

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About the author

Daniel Castro is vice president at ITIF. His research interests include health IT, data privacy, e-commerce, e-government, electronic voting, information security, and accessibility. Previously, Castro worked as an IT analyst at the Government Accountability Office where he audited IT security and management controls at various government agencies. He has a B.S. in foreign service from Georgetown University and an M.S. in information security technology and management from Carnegie Mellon University.