Leveling the Playing Field: Mobile Location Analytics

by Goulston & Storrs PC

As brick-and-mortar retailers face increasing challenges to compete with their online counterparts, a new tool is helping to level the playing field: mobile location analytics. Traditionally, online retailers have had an advantage over brick-and-mortar stores from the voluminous data that could be gathered while customers perused the retailer’s website. This has allowed online retailers to track, among other things, precisely how many customers are visiting their website and when, which websites those customers are being directed in from, which items customers are viewing and for how long, and which customers are buying what products. By better understanding customer behavior, online retailers can tailor their websites in order to funnel customers to the most profitable items, to offer customized advertisements and shopping experiences based on a customer’s prior browsing or purchasing history, and otherwise to enhance their website in ways that maximize customer acquisition and retention and ensure maximum profitability. Now, mobile location analytics is transforming brick-and-mortar retail by providing access to similar information about customers, which is allowing the retailers to improve their stores and the shopping experience for their customers in the same way web analytics has been doing for online retailers for years.

Mobile location analytics (MLA) generally refers to the study and analysis of location data that is gathered from cell phones, tablets, smart watches, and other mobile devices. Every mobile device with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities is assigned a unique identifier by the manufacturer, called a MAC address, which is constantly broadcasted whenever the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth function is enabled. Sensors can be installed in stores, malls, airports, hotels, and virtually anywhere else to pick up and record the broadcasted MAC address, which then can be used to track the location of that device – and the customer carrying it – with great accuracy. The gathered location data is then aggregated (along with data gathered in other stores using the same MLA provider or partner providers) and can be used to reveal customer patterns such as the percentage of customers walking by a store who enter it, heat maps to show the most common paths customers take through a store or mall, the amount of time an average customer will spend in a store, and the amount of time average customers spend at particular product displays. And because each MAC address is unique and is linked to a particular device, it also allows the retailer to track a customer over time, to identify repeat customers, and to know whether that customer has been to the retailer’s other branches or stores. With enough data points, it is even possible to infer age and gender of customers.

Though names, addresses, and other personal information are not linked to MAC addresses, the nature of the data gathered for use in MLA presents some obvious privacy concerns, particularly when customers are not aware that the data are being gathered or how they are being used. Some studies have shown that customers overwhelmingly disapprove of the practice. To help allay these fears, many of the major companies providing MLA services have taken significant steps to ensure customers’ privacy is maintained, including by de-personalizing the data immediately upon gathering it, by complying with a mutually-agreed upon Code of Conduct that requires certain privacy controls, and by providing an opt-out website that allows individuals to add their MAC address to a database that serves as a de facto ‘do not track’ list obeyed by many of the largest MLA companies. It also helps that the FTC publically has taken an interest and is keeping a watchful eye as the use of MLA technology increases.

Privacy concerns aside, MLA technology can provide significant benefits to all parties involved in the retail experience. Shopping center managers can use the technology to optimize the mix of tenants, to increase efficiency and improve traffic flow throughout the premises, and to maximize advertising effectiveness. Store owners can use the technology to improve their marketing efforts, to place products and staff more efficiently throughout their stores, to funnel customers to their most profitable products, and to provide a better overall shopping experience that increases the likelihood that a customer will provide repeat business. And even customers benefit from better access to the products they most often want, more helpful and relevant advertising, more effective customer service, and generally an easier shopping experience. Online retailers have had access to data that allowed them to provide analogous benefits for years. Now, with the increasing availability of MLA, brick-and-mortar retailers have a powerful tool to help keep up.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Goulston & Storrs PC | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Goulston & Storrs PC

Goulston & Storrs PC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.