Customer Traffic Heat Maps Based on Mobile WiFi Devices

Analyzing customer behavior in a store or a shopping center, or measuring passenger flow on an airport or a railway station can provide highly valuable data for your business. You can estimate your conversion rate, determine less visited areas of your venue or detect bottlenecks in your buildings. More advanced systems can even try to guess the customers' gender and age. How is it done, and what information can it provide?

various colors resemling a heatmap

What technologies can be used for this purpose?

Both WiFi and Bluetooth can be used to detect and triangulate position of a device - such as a smartphone or tablet. Most visitors always take their devices with them while shopping. If the WiFi is on or the Bluetooth is activated, then the devices listening to radio traffic are able to, for example, detect packets and measure signal strength in order to determine distance to a given device. It's not easy due to multiple factors affecting signal strength, but with good algorithms and a mesh of routers monitoring wireless traffic it's perfectly doable with very decent precision.

Bluetooth usually utilizes Beacons for navigation purposes, allowing it to easily detect nearby smartphones and tablets. If the Bluetooth radio is on and active, it can be scanned by other Bluetooth devices - and thus triangulated to display its location.

What can the data be used for?

Solutions available on the market offer a variety of ways to analyze collected data. For starters, we can measure conversion rate of shop window displays and alike. They also aloow us to create a heat map showing traffic intensity in particular regions of your shop or building. Differentiating between the most and least popular places is something we can use to optimize the placement of our products and marketing materials. Advertising screens should be most profitable in most popular places, and further backed with collected traffic data. By having the data spread out in time (footfall), you can try to correlate it with day of the week, holidays, or even weather. Possibilities are almost endless.

In case of buildings or other facilities, like stadiums, traffic heatmaps may reveal bottlenecks that can be then fixed in order to improve safety and user satisfaction. In general, it is going to require a well-built router mesh or devices detection signals in order to generate such a large map of a 3-dimensional object.

Are the solutions available for everyone?

Shopping centers can usually afford to have multiple access points capable of collecting data. Smaller shops, however, might be limited to only one or a few of them. In such cases, an efficient solution would be to use WiFi (and Bluetooth) microcontrollers. It's an emerging technology related to the develpment of the Internet of things, but due to its low cost, power consumption and simple short range antennas it could prove to be quite efficient at triangulating WiFi devices on a limited area of a store.

Are there any solutions that do not require WiFi or Bluetooth?

There are also software-based applications for CCTV systems, allows them to count people or even guess their gender and age range based on face recognition. Such solutions would collect more data, as they don't require people to have mobile devices with WiFi constantly turned on. However, they still require you to have a compatible CCTV hardware. Additionally, the reactions of your customers to such an aggressive surveillance system may be severely negative.

Regardless of how the data is collected, it is extremely valuable in any line of business.

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