Using big data to analyze geographic trends

Although a merchandiser may sell its products to consumers throughout the United States, the geographic expanse of the nation hosts a wide variety of subcultures. At times, its disparate regions more closely resemble different countries. Among multifarious political convictions and societal mores throughout the U.S. lie varying purchasing habits and consumer behaviors. 

Cloud computing has introduced new methods of conducting market research, but the most popular practice among retailers is use of the analytics tools associated with data. In light of the e-commerce trend, online merchandisers sought to create personalized marketing trends based on what items customers searched for and bought. Refocusing the lens on brick-and-mortar stores, commodity-based businesses are beginning to use geographic analysis applications in order to better determine how to supply outlets in specific locations. 

According to Tony Costa, a contributor to Harvard Business Review, on-premise electronic devices located throughout facilities are providing retailers with algorithmic information regarding customer behavior. Taking the Web analytics used by online merchandisers, a variety of devices such as smartphones, in-venue Wi-Fi Networks and Bluetooth-enabled beacons are contributing bits of information to be processed on a cloud server

Costa noted that a single customer visit to an outlet can produce nearly 10,000 unique data points, excluding the digital information gathered at the point of sale. One organization employs over 65,000 sensors installed throughout thousands of brick-and-mortar stores.

Keeping it private
Although the use of location analytics has produced profitable results for retailers, its implementation has sparked concern among consumers throughout the country. In an age when big data has been harnessed to identify behaviors, track movements and even shape online reputations, many citizens remain suspicious of corporate intentions. 

In response to this apprehension, organizations have been developing guidelines for those utilizing the technology to ensure the confidentiality of individuals. The Future of Privacy Forum released its Mobile Location Analytics Code of Conduct protocol in Oct. 2013. The doctrine acts as a self-regulatory framework for companies that provide geographical data processing systems for brick-and-mortar retailers. 

The code explains rules about how location analytics data should be collected and utilized. One measure obligates mobile location analytics (MLA) companies to disclose detailed notices on their websites describing the information they amass and how it pertains to their services. Another rule instructs MLAs to provide customers with the ability to decline to have their personal devices used in the analysis process. 

Setting guidelines as to how customer data should be treated may encourage use of MLAs and educate constituents in the analysis process. 

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