Would A Marriage Of Mobile And A Shopping Cart Solve The In-Store Tracking Issue?

Written by Evan Schuman
September 26th, 2012

In our story this week about the various ways to track shopper location in-store, an astute reader asked whether tracking shopping carts wouldn’t be an easier approach than tracking mobile devices. Although tracking the cart or a handheld basket is much more limited, it does have some wonderful advantages. But what if you could marry the brains of a mobile app with the bulk—and easier trackability—of a cart?

This marriage could be a very low-cost proposition, with the app asking for the cart’s number or, better yet, the cart presenting a QR or barcode that the app can scan. The app—with its capabilities and its CRM history—could use the cart equipped with a simple radio beacon for navigation purposes.

This approach would certainly have its limits, not the least of which is that many chains don’t even use carts. It is also not practical in malls. And, of course, plenty of customers don’t use shopping carts—or at least don’t use them all the time.

But this relatively dumb cart approach is a lot cheaper and more efficient than smart carts, which have been slow to catch on and to do much ROI “make CFOs happy” magic. The Microsoft-fueled smart cart, demoed in Whole Foods while that chain stressed it would never use it, is a wonderful example of something that is a lot less practical. For instance, remember that shopping carts don’t shut down in sunlight like Dracula. (That sunlight-shutdown feature alone makes the Whole Foods shopping cart story worth its two-minute read.)

The biggest advantage of this type of approach, though, is its near-term tactical advantage. Tracking mobile devices directly is superior in the long term; it’s also strategic. The advantage of mobile-only is the consistency of information as the customer moves from store to store, especially over time.

The problem, though, is that retailers need approaches they can fund and deploy in a few months, not years from now. The cart concept could be useful in getting something operational soon.

Let’s not forget that, as the commenter pointed out, it’s not going to be easy to have a consistent method for tracking Apple and Android devices, let alone the variations among many of the Android manufacturers. For that matter, even the Apple hardware side will have its variances from newer models to older units. Then there are BlackBerries and the legions of other phones coming.

It’s already clear that no single physical-tracking technology has solved the problem yet, which means for now tracking will have to depend on Wi-Fi triangulation and audio triangulation and route tracking using direction changes and accelerometers, for example. But retailers have no control of which of those features a customer’s smartphone has. On the other hand, a cart-tracking system is completely under the store’s control, so the chain can decide what combination of in-store location approaches works best and cheapest.

Once shoppers can be tracked through mobile apps and something else such as a cart or basket, the potential for changing the in-store experience is huge. As Walmart is working through its in-aisle mobile checkout experiment, this means texting promotions to customers within seconds of them taking an item off the shelf, in plenty of time to change their behavior.

It enables the tracking of what customers pick up, put in their carts and then put back. It can note exactly where shoppers were when they changed their mind (what was the digital signage saying at that moment?) and how long it took.

It’s simply that the elegant method of spying on phone signals may not work very well in the near term. So if stamping a shopping cart gets us these advantages now—while we’re working through the bigger mobile issues—maybe that’s worth considering.


Comments are closed.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.