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Cisco Brings Location-Based Big Data To Shopping

Cisco touts its analytics technology, teamed with users' cellphones, as perfect for helping brick-and-mortar retailers track consumer behavior and provide personalized advertising.

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Cisco on Thursday announced new location-based analytics technology intended to help retailers better understand consumer behavior and deliver more compelling experiences, including personalized advertising. The new offering is also designed to help businesses and institutions capitalize on existing infrastructure by transforming the Wi-Fi networks they already maintain into revenue-generating vehicles.

In an interview, Prashanth Shenoy, senior marketing manager for Cisco's Enterprise Wireless Network Group, said retailers could use the new tools to "replicate the online world in a venue world." That is, a website such as Amazon is able to intelligently engage customers because it can access information from those customers' respective purchase and browsing histories -- data to which physical stores have, at best, incomplete access. Cisco aims to change that, promising real-time analysis that could allow businesses to transmit a coupon for a given product to a user's smartphone in the same instant that the customer is investigating that product in the store.

The technology isn't limited to increasing the number of impulse buys, however. Shenoy said Cisco can empower businesses to make more surgical staffing decisions thanks to better tracking of traffic flows within a given space. He also described augmented reality applications as another potential attraction.

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The process relies on HotSpot 2.0 technology to seamlessly transition a user's cellular signal to Wi-Fi as soon as he or she enters a given location, such as a shopping mall. Shenoy said that many applications currently use GPS to provide location-based services but countered that such approaches only work well outdoors; because GPS can't reliably triangulate a user's position within indoor venues, a different tactic is required. He suggested that 4G technology could provide more extensive insights into user behavior once it's widely adopted but emphasized Wi-Fi as the primary bridge between Cisco's analytics engine and the smart devices customers carry.

He also stated that the process will be bolstered by a partnership with Qualcomm. The semiconductor giant will include a Cisco software client on its mobile handset chipsets that is designed to provide more accurate location data. Once the aforementioned bridge has been established, Shenoy said, anonymized information can be collected for aggregate statistics. This content could not only improve staffing efforts, but also help advertisers to refine their approach. It could be valuable to know, for example, where people tend to linger within a given space, or which marketing displays compel passersby to stop and investigate.

But this is only part of Cisco's vision. Depending on the services for which the user has opted, HotSpot 2.0 will also instantly authenticate the user's identity for given on-device apps. If utilities such as customer loyalty apps have already been activated, information from the user's profile, such as his or her purchase history, can be married with the location data, allowing personalized offers to be automatically deployed. Shenoy said Wi-Fi can be harnessed to pinpoint a person's whereabouts to within five meters, which is impressive but not precise enough for businesses to act on location alone. Knowing that a person is in a given sector of the mall is one thing, but knowing that the customer has previously expressed interest in products within that sector is another.

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