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Malls tracking shoppers via cellphone signal

British company Path Intelligence is testing a shopper tracking system called Footpath in a southern California shopping mall. The technology picks up the unique IDs in shopper’s cell phones in order to study their movements through stores and throughout the mall.

Describing the product: “Path Intelligence detects each shopper carrying a phone that enters the mall. It identifies how long they stay, which shops they visit, whether or not they have visited before and how they travel around the mall during their trip. Path Intelligence enables data-driven analysis of a mall, the retail tenancy mix, the impact of marketing events and much more. Path Intelligence specialises in digitising real-world behaviour to enable you to recognise profitable opportunities.”

Used during the holiday shopping season in late 2011 in the Promenade Mall in Temecula, California (North and inland from San Diego), the system is said to already be in use in some European and Australian shopping centers. It’s unclear if shoppers are alerted in any way about the fact that they will be tracked via their cellphone ID, or how the data collected will be used. While retailers have long collected whatever information they can about shopper behavior, including how consumers tend to move about their stores, this is the first time they are able to uniquely identify a shopper and passively track return visits.