Technology At A Price

Bob McDevitt


The technology available to bricks and mortar retailers and restaurants that utilize location modeling and site analysis for development and marketing, has taken a significant step forward.

While searching for a reliable way to determine with some level of certainty where the customers of a particular store live, the use of smart phone tracking data was presented as an option. This option came from a company that develops site models that aid in predicting the success of a particular location in a retail or restaurant business. It seems it is now practical to access smart phone location data to track where people go, when they go there, and where they live.

After entering longitude and latitude perimeters of the store to be studied (called a geo-fence) it is possible to track any phone with location tracking turned on that entered those perimeters.  Once those are identified the same phones can be tracked by zip code between 10 PM and 5 AM, presumably when they are at home.  It’s oversimplified but the point is you learn where your customers live.

The amazing part is that it is possible to go back and track this for an entire year.  The cell towers ping every 15 minutes and record the responses, so a huge sample size is available making it extremely reliable.

One use for this data is to anticipate encroachment of a potential new store on an existing store.  Going back a year creates a sample size in the thousands to determine how many customers from the existing store live in the trading area of the potential new location.

It is also possible to track that phone into competitive locations (geo-fences) and determine if your customers are frequenting your competitors.  Since the data is available over time it can also develop frequency data, not just frequency in your business but frequency in your competitors.

It’s only a matter of time before this technology is used to text or call individual customers who have been identified as potential users of one brand who are frequent customers of another.

What is disconcerting is that all this information can be gathered without customers ever knowing. If a smart phone user keeps the apps that allow tracking on, such as “find a friend” or GPS or even weather apps, they are being tracked by somebody.  Certainly the reasons are mostly innocent but the thought is distressing.  If you are not interested in being part of the research, go to settings and in each app  turn “location” settings to either “never” or “only while using the app”.

One should not be surprised that the era of big data now yields this kind of precision.  We have reached another milestone in consumer research and marketing but it comes at a price.

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