Proximity Sensors in Stores and Elsewhere Surge, New Report Suggests

Retailers Still Dominate Companies Deploying Proximity Trackers

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Thomas Walle, CEO at Unacast, which assembles the Proxbook directory of proximity sensors.
Thomas Walle, CEO at Unacast, which assembles the Proxbook directory of proximity sensors.
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Mobile beacons and other proximity location tracking sensors continue to proliferate in retail and other business locations across the globe, numbering 6.2 million as of the first quarter, according to a new report from Proxbook, a directory of companies in the space.

That's up from Proxbook's count of 5 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. Proxbook was introduced in the summer of 2015. Its data is based on voluntary self-reporting by companies involved with sensor services.

The bulk of the 6.2 million seniors were beacons, which number nearly 5 million, mainly using Apple's iBeacon and Google's Eddystone technologies, according to the Proxbook report. The remainder are NFC sensors and Wi-Fi points.

Retailers including Woolworths in Australia and House of Blue Jeans in the Netherlands are also beginning to go public with their location-tracking efforts. House of Blue Jeans, for example, revealed that consumers measured by the sensors deployed in its locations spent an average of 1,525 seconds in a store.

"This is the first time we're seeing they are confident enough in their deployments that they want to share their results," said Thomas Walle, CEO and co-founder of Unacast, which assembles the Proxbook directory, at the I-Com Global Summit in Seville, Spain.

Unacast connects ad platforms including Lotame, Mediamath and Oracle with around 50 proximity services firms to enable digital ad retargeting based on location data gathered by beacons and other sensors that communicate with mobile devices.

While restaurants, hotels, banks, amusement parks and other businesses are installing proximity trackers, retailers are the most prolific users. The report shows that 70% of proximity service providers support services in the retail vertical, up from 68% in the fourth quarter.

They're primarily using the technologies for mobile communication -- to send notifications to people when the presence of their mobile devices is detected, often because they've downloaded a shopping app that communicates with beacons.

While 73% of proximity tech firms are used for mobile communication, use for proximity ad networks rose from to 34% in the first quarter from 27% in the fourth, and use for online retargeting grew to 20% from 15%.

Unacast and Proxbook also tracked investments made in the location-tracking sector, noting that six major investments by firms including PlaceIQ and Foursquare totaled $115.7 million in the first quarter.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Woolworths had revealed data on the average time consumers spent in its stores, according to proximity sensor data. The marketer was House of Blue Jeans, not Woolworths.