How Stores Track Your Shopping Behavior: Ray Burke (Transcript)

Full text of Ray Burke’s talk: How stores track your shopping behavior at TEDxIndianapolis conference.

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Raymond R. Burke – E.W. Kelley Professor of Business Administration

Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here today.

Well, I wanted to share with you a little bit about my background and in my interest in watching shoppers, okay.

So to understand my fascination with this, we need to go back to my first job which was a Cardinal Camera Store. So I was hired as a salesperson when I was 16 years old. And this was my dream job, because I loved photography and I really enjoyed interacting with people.

But I discovered that the salespeople in this store worked on commission and it actually turned out to be very competitive. So we’d stand at these glass counters and customers would pull up in front of the store and they’d walk in and we try to size them up and see, you know, who are the big spenders.

And you know, you get different types of shoppers who come in. So one type of customer, they were just there to browse and it didn’t matter how much time you spent with them or how many cameras you showed them, if they’re going to buy anything they were going to go to the discount store that was down the street.

Other people would come in and they were there just to pick up some film or some photo processing.

But there was a third group of shoppers and they had bigger plans in mind. They may have had a wedding that was coming up or a vacation or a birthday party.

I remember one occasion where we’re standing there and this old truck, this pickup truck pulls up in front of the store. And the back was filled with junk and this guy gets out and he comes into the store and it looks like he hadn’t showered in a week.

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And the other salespeople, they scattered so… but I saw when he came into the store that he was walking with intention and his eyes went to a display case that had some of the nice cameras. And we struck up a conversation and I learned that his wife was expecting their first child. And they wanted to get some really nice pictures and they’ve been saving up for this.

And so we looked at some different equipment and he ended up getting some nice gear.

So I learned from this experience the value in watching shoppers. Now I still watch shoppers today, but I have more sophisticated tools. For example, at the Kelly School’s Customer Interface Lab, we have tools that allow us to simulate the shopping experience. In some cases, we actually build out part of a store with shelf fixtures and checkout lanes and we use eye tracking technology.

In others, we use virtual reality simulations to recreate the appearance of the store. So for example, we’ve simulated mass retail stores and grocery stores, specialty retail stores. So this is an example of a gourmet food and wine shop.

Now the advantage of the lab is you’ve got a lot of control, a lot of flexibility but in some cases we actually have to go into the stores… bring the lab into the store to study shoppers in their natural environment.

Now we will, in some cases, use… you know you go into the stores and you see the security cameras that are used for property loss prevention, we use the data collected from those cameras. We’ve also looked at the shopper behavior using our own cameras in the store that use 3D imaging, so we can measure not just where the shopper is standing but their skeleton position, where they’re reaching, where their head is facing, their facial expressions. And we have software that automates the coding of this and is able to capture this information anonymously.

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