Retailers Seeing Infrared, via Sensors to Monitor In-store Shopping Habits

CHICAGO -- Wal-Mart, Supervalu's Albertsons chain, Kroger, and Walgreens are among the retailers going high-tech to learn more about their shoppers' in-store shopping patterns. The retailers are part of a consortium, which also includes major suppliers, that's been testing infrared sensors to measure customer traffic and generate "audience ratings" for products.

The system, called Prism, was tested in a study that ran for a month in a limited amount of stores during the spring. The In-Store Marketing Institute undertook the study. Several consumer goods manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Miller Brewing, and 3M, participated. (Story continues below.)

Wal-Mart's s.v.p. of marketing, Stephen Quinn, told the Financial Times that the new system could improve operational efficiency at Wal-Mart by guiding it in store layouts and product displays, and helping it better monitor traffic flow patterns.

The system's infrared beams track shoppers' movements and correlate them with actual sales data, producing what could be the first scientific measurement for the effectiveness of in-store sales tools.

Skeptics, however, have pointed out that the sensors aren't foolproof: For instance, they can't tell whether someone walking down an aisle is actually browsing, or just taking a shortcut. The sensors also might double-count someone who walks up and down the same aisle.

The Prism consortium said it plans to build on the results of the study by recruiting more retailers and manufacturers, according to the Financial Times.
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