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How Mall of America is using data it gets from shoppers on the free Wi-Fi

We already know that sites like Facebook collect data from their users to target advertisements and determine their political preferences.

But the Mall of America is also collecting data on the shoppers that log into its 5.6-million-square-foot Wi-Fi network.

The Wi-Fi network has beacons that track shoppers through “heat maps” keeping track of where shoppers enter the mall, where they go and how long they stay, according to Mobile Sports Report.

MOA hasn’t even had their free Wi-Fi service up for a year. It first became available last October before the holiday shopping season, says the Star Tribune. 

MOA didn’t offer Wi-Fi until long after other malls in the area already had the service, explained the Star Tribune in an earlier article. That was partly because it was a challenge to install a network in such a huge place, mall executives wanted a flexible network that could be expanded on, and they wanted a more sophisticated system that could track shoppers.

Over the course of approximately the first seven months that the network was active, over 300,000 shoppers logged on, using 486 terabytes of data traffic, reported BusinessWire.  (For context, 400 million people visit MOA each year.)

The mall teamed up with the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management to study and analyze the data. A group of students in the Business Analytics Master’s program spent a semester looking at foot traffic patterns, dwell times in particular locations, shopper affinities for certain retail brands, and the impacts of mall events, according to MinneAnalytics.

“Understanding and analysis of this sort of data is just getting started world-wide,” Richard Archer, student project leader, told MinneAnalytics. “Being on the forefront of it was a big challenge, and an exciting opportunity.”

What have they found out?

Here are just few facts that the business students found, according to Mobile Sports Report:

  • During the mall’s 400 events, 39 percent of event attendees visited food courts compared to 25 percent of non-event mall visitors.
  • If visitors were given free admission to the amusement park, they spent 40 percent of their time at the mall elsewhere which suggested that free entry could increase shopping.

Janette Smrcka, IT director for Mall of America, told Mobile Sports Report that the mall hopes to use this data to improve customer experiences instead of relying on time consuming surveys and focus groups.

“We’re just at the beginning of being able to use all of this valuable data and translate it into actionable information,” she said.

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