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Retail’s secret weapon: high-tech heat maps

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NEW YORK — Online stores enjoy some big advantages over their brick and mortar competitors — cheaper rent, 24/7 sales and near instant feedback about their buyers’ preferences and shopping habits.

Because e-commerce sites can track shoppers’ every move online, they’re able to constantly gauge what we like, what we buy and how we shop. They’re able to quickly make adjustments to their products, marketing and pricing, helping increase sales.

How can a traditional store compete against that information advantage? The old fashioned way was to have a store clerk follow customers around, see what they looked at, and take notes for later. Now, a new heat mapping technology is helping brick and mortar retailers track customers’ behavior electronically in real time.

Prism Skylabs’ technology uses security camera images to generate a heat map of a shop’s layout and translate that data onto a dashboard for store managers.

Heat map

This helps managers analyze which areas of the sales floor best catch a shopper’s attention and which are overlooked. The heat mapping is so specific, it can tell which items on a table got the most attention from consumers.

By aligning that data with sales, managers can see if shoppers lingered in a specific area, showing they were attracted to an item but didn’t find it enticing enough to buy. Retailers can then determine whether the issue was missing sizes, pricing, quality or something else.

Retailers need tools to help them say, “‘OK, so this is working, this is not working, I need to change this’ and quickly make adjustments,” said Cliff Crosbie, Prism Skylabs Senior Vice President of Retail.

Rachel Shechtman has been using Prism’s technology to help her reconfigure her store STORY in Manhattan. Her shop changes its theme and offerings month to month.

Shechtman views the technology as A/B testing in real life. With it you can determine, “‘Is it the placement of the product on the table, or is the product just a dud?'” Shechtman told CNNMoney. “All these analytics exist in a virtual world, and so to be able to have those insights in a physical world has been incredibly helpful.”

Prism’s videos helped Shechtman rethink how to display the most expensive item from her late summer theme, “Remember When,” inspired by Nickelodeon’s 25th anniversary. The SpongeBob Rolex was getting little attention, she learned from the heat maps, even though it stood out in its own glass case.

“The same person walked by it three times and never saw it,” Shechtman said. Without the heat maps, she said, “I would’ve never guessed that in a million years.”

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