How to Track Customers With Wi-Fi

Doug Rodewald on tracking customers’ locations as they move through the store

Jackson Lewis, Associate Editor

Big Brother is here. Or rather, he is in big-box retail, hotels and quick-service restaurants, and he may soon reach convenience stores, according to one technology consultant.

Doug Rodewald, founder of Hoffman Street Holdings, Chicago, says the ability to track customers’ locations as they move through the store is within convenience retailers’ reach. CSP caught up with Rodewald for insights into this emerging marketing option.

Q: What exactly is “customer tracking”?

A: It’s the use of mobile phones and a store’s Wi-Fi to track consumers as they move [around] the floor. From a marketing perspective, you’re able to access data on frequency, location and wait time; it’s knowing where they’re shopping at any moment. If a retailer has a branded app, you can even leverage it to push more personalized information to the consumer about deals and promotions.

Q: What’s required?

A: Part of the capability comes with networks already deployed in many c-stores. Another element are cloud-based infrastructures.

Q: How does it work?

A: Think of it this way: If you open up your phone and click on Wi-Fi, a bunch of available networks come on for you to choose or access. Well, networks can, in turn, glean information from your phone if you have the Wi-Fi turned on. They can track your phone’s ID number. [The network] may not know it’s you, per se, but if your Wi-Fi is on, it’s getting data. Bluetooth or beacons do this as well. Now, for more granular-level tracking, where they can identify a specific customer, you’d need to have an app.

What’s important for c-store retailers to know is that other channels are already investigating it. It’s much more prevalent in big box, QSR and hospitality.

Q: How can c-stores use this option?

A: If the data you’re extracting is super-rich and if you have a loyalty platform that you can feed data into, you can personalize engagements and offers. Historically, c-stores have been about fuel rewards programs: earn and burn, cents-per-gallon off. That’s fantastic but not a personalized offer. [The loyalty program] doesn’t know what else you’re purchasing or what sites you’re at. The next generation of loyalty is tying audiences to third-party platforms that leverage retail data to make experiences more personalized and rich.

Q: What other futuristic ideas do you see for c-stores?

A: Look for mobile POS. QSRs are using tablets for payment. In our space, the forecourt controller has been an issue, but as more open up to integration, different software providers can come in. It’s a huge opportunity.