For retailers, using tools that analyse Wi-Fi have been a well-established and proven way to track which stores customers are visiting and the frequency of each visit. However, recent changes from phone software providers has made gathering this information much more difficult.

Seemingly simple updates to software, including Apple iOS 14 which was released in September, means that tracking customers could become impossible for retailers. The latest Apple update has introduced randomisation, so as a visitor’s device attempts to connect to a store’s Wi-Fi, it will use a different random MAC address each time. Simply put, one visitor using their device multiple times could use multiple addresses, removing the accuracy of tracking.

Peter Luff, president at Ipsos Retail Performance

Industry expert, Johan Terve, has warned these changes could severely impact the Wi-Fi industry. Until recently, most operating systems only randomised the MAC address when the device was scanning, protecting the identity of the owner. The reason for this was to prevent Wi-Fi providers from tracking your device in order to determine which venues you visit and how often, regardless of if you actually connect.

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It is vital for retailers to track footfall traffic and customer behaviours in order to plan store layout, staff patterns and marketing strategies, particularly in such a challenging economic environment.

Terve has also said that “we can expect to see a stricter approach to privacy in the future. For now Apple seems to have gone with a milder version”. So, with Wi-Fi analytics increasingly redundant, retailers will need to choose other methods of visitor tracking, such as people counting sensors, to identify busy periods and see how popular a specific product display is.

The benefit of sensors is that they don’t rely on technology in the shoppers’ pockets to feed information to retailers, and still provide valuable insight to consumer behaviour and shopping patterns.

This is especially valuable at the moment as shopper habits have changed significantly over the course of the year. With continued uncertainty and reduced footfall likely for retailers, retailers will be keen to find out what brings in customers and maximises opportunities for sales.

As technology continues to develop, retailers will need to ensure that their footfall measurements are as accurate as they can be, to ensure maximum opportunity for sales and repeat custom within the store.