Market Researcher Uses Beacons to Study Shopper Behavior

Verve is testing a system utilizing Bluetooth beacons to track members of its research panel within a store, as well as send messages and questionnaires to them in a timely manner.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 29, 2015

Market research firm Verve is piloting the use of beacon technology to gather automated data regarding shopper behavior and interests for its retailer customers. To date, a handful of its customers—typically, large supermarkets and other retailers—are serving as test sites for the technology, which consists of beacons installed around store shelves, point-of-sale counters and entrances, as well as an app to help the company collect data about the locations and movements of shoppers who are members of its research panel.

Verve serves its retailer customers by conducting marketing research based on panel members' interests. Each year, it conducts hundreds of research projects for clients, such as global food and drug stores and their suppliers. Verve collects data from the its panel of consumers, and then uses that information to create reports so its clients can better understand the success of their own marketing efforts, which products are of interest to buyers, and when and where sales occur, as well as improve on marketing or product placement as necessary. The panels consist of shoppers who answer questionnaires about their experiences at stores and their own preferences.

Georgina Botting
The company typically recruits its panel members via shopper loyalty programs, says Georgina Botting, a Verve research director and specialist. One of the panel members' roles is to then fill out questionnaires regarding their shopping experiences. Verve also uses in-store cameras to track the behavior of shoppers in general, in order to watch how customers navigate to and around a store fixture; which shelves, fixtures or products generate interest; how much time customers spend at specific locations; and whether those dwell times among store shelves lead to a purchase.

Cameras, however, come with limitations. Many of Verve's customers are large supermarkets, where tracking movements via cameras is impractical. "The issue we had is that each camera is very expensive," Botting explains. And the cost of the cameras themselves is not the only expense, she notes. In some cases, the company uses camera software to isolate what activity might be of interest and should be watched to collect useful data. In other cases, she says, paid employees simply sit in front of computer screens and view the camera footage to analyze what is happening within the store.

For those reasons, the use of cameras in stores has been limited. With beacon technology, Botting reports, Verve now has the "the ability to scale," by using beacons to collect data that could not be accessed simply because cameras couldn't be installed in large numbers.

The company began looking into beacon technology in summer 2014, Botting says. This spring, it began installing beacons from a variety of vendors in the stores of its customers, most of which are located in the United Kingdom and the United States. It also started using existing beacons deployed at its customers' stores, when possible. The participating stores have asked to remain unnamed.

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