Location Analytics without a Consumer Value Angle May Not Fly

An article in HBR today discusses what we've known and been writing about for some time now: location analytics is a major "must-do" opportunity for retailers and others (airports, hospitals, casinos, colleges, mall owners, entertainment venues). See also: Report: "Mapping the Indoor Marketing Opportunity."

The HBR piece discusses various provider-vendors (RetailNext, Placed, Euclid) and retail scenarios (operations, staffing, merchandising) that will benefit from indoor and offline analytics. However one of the major issues in the space is privacy and consumer acceptance. The article neglects to discuss privacy at all, although many of the comments raise the issue.  

Location analytics can be done in such a way to avoid any PII collection while giving customers the ability to opt out of any indoor tracking (save closed circuit TV). The Future of Privacy Forum has introduced an opt-out (a kind of do not track indoors) website SmartStorePrivacy.org. This is a voluntary thing at the moment, though with many analytics firms signing on. But it will likely become mandatory at some point in the near future.  

Despite ominous portrayals of indoor location by some journalists, it's not a very scary thing when you actually see it in action. Surveys conducted by Opus Research and others have found that most consumers will happily opt-in to location tracking when there's a value exchange that they understand.

Affirming this again, Swirl released some new consumer survey data (n=1,000 US adults) that found: 

  • 77% of consumer respondents would opt-in to location tracking/awareness as long as they received enough value in return 
  • Consumers are most interested in in-store push notifications (80%) around promotions, but also in price comparison tools, relevant content and loyalty program integration 
  • 72% are more likely to buy off an in-store promotion vs. an online offer or email promotion  
  • 62% said they would use apps in-store more often if their content that was relevant/personalized to the shopper’s interests and in-store location

Whether or not these specific findings are replicated at the same levels by other surveys, their general sentiment is: consumers are receptive to in store promotions and content and happy to share location information with a clear value exchange. 

Where indoor location and privacy become potential issues is when there is no consumer experience: if retailers or others are simply collecting data without offering value in return to consumers. Under such circumstances (where opt-out is offered or later required) we might see substantial numbers of consumers opting out of indoor location/tracking. 

My belief is that ultimately the FTC will compel explicit disclosures and signage where location analytics and tracking are present giving consumers the ability to opt out. Burying a notification such as "by using our WiFi you agree to let us track you" in terms and conditions isn't going to fly for much longer.