The clamor that erupted last year after the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream outlets reported that some big retailers passively tracked users in their stores has waned in recent months, opening the door for an emergent offline analytics sector to become a mainstay retail industry. Euclid, the company that quickly became the poster-child for in-store tracking during the debate, is making its core tracking technology free this morning in an attempt to lure in the millions of smaller, more apprehensive retailers across the country.
The move comes as increased venture investment in offline analytics has feed a growing ecosystem of startups aimed at helping retailers measure, and in some cases, communicate with consumers in-store. These companies source data from wide swath of sensors, ranging from wireless routers and security cameras to small beacons that retailers can install and use to track and message customers as they move throughout a store.
As the privacy debate cools, the focus for startups and their investors is shifting from privacy concerns to technology adoption and implementation. Certain technologies — such as the bluetooth LE beacons that have exploded in recent months — offer more advanced positioning and messaging capabilities, but as far as analytics are concerned, the differences between technologies and the companies peddling them, are less pronounced, setting the stage for yet another footrace in the local technology industry.
For Euclid, the decision to make its core tracking and analytics features free achieves two ends. It lowers the barriers to adoption, opening the product to a host of smaller retailers who may have otherwise not tested the service. But more importantly, by expanding the installation base, the company increases the amount of data that runs through its benchmarking system, a product that Will Smith, the company’s chief executive, tells me will become a cornerstone for the company moving forward.
“We’ve hit an inflection point from a data set perspective, and that dataset is really our most valuable product,” says Smith, who also said the company sees 6 billion events per day across the network of retailers who use the product. “The more customers we’re able to bring on board the better picture of how [the retailer] is doing we can provide. we can not only say how did you do compared to the rest of retail, but how you did compared to folks within your category.”
Euclid’s bet on benchmarking points to a deeper strategic schism that’s underway in in-store technology market. The company is betting that it can grow as an analytics firm, and avoid the in-store marketing sector that’s exploded in recent months. The goal, says Smith, is to answer any question a retailer might have about her business, whether that’s about foot traffic in her store, or her competitors.
When in-store measurement entered the market in 2011, the technology was often positioned as the future of the omni-channel movement, a strategic imperative in the retail community to view their brick-and-mortar and online stores as complementary, rather than competitive. Big retailers like Macy’s have invested heavily in streamlining these systems, bring together, for instance, online and in-store inventory into a single dataset.
The next logical step was to merge a retailer’s online and offline customer data, allowing retailers to view follow users from browser to aisle — a vision that Smith says is simply not technically feasible right now. However, according to Smith, recent changes made by Apple in particular to restrict access by third parties to a device’s MAC address — the code that Euclid and others use to identify users — have made those efforts “unrealistic.”
For Euclid and other startups building real-world analytics technology, there’s a broader, more fundamental transition underway that governs their growth. Brick-and-mortar retailers have long been insulated from the data-driven approach to decision-making that has come to dominate in digital industries business. However, as more of the real-world is measured, retailers and other sellers in the local marketplace will need to embrace a more quantitative approach to running their business.
Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.
Find out more about how big data can be used in local context at Street Fight’s Local Data Summit, taking place on February 25th, in Denver. Learn from and network with some of the top local data experts in the country. Tickets just $399 until January 23rd. Buy now!