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Santa Rosa Ski and Sports Uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Tags to Track Customer Traffic

The company is one of thousands of small to midsize specialty retailers employing the Swarm Portal solution to measure the quantity of customer visits, and pair that information with sales data to analyze shopper behavior.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 02, 2014

Santa Rosa Ski and Sports is one of several dozen small businesses trialing or deploying a low-cost solution that uses wireless sensors to track and manage foot traffic data at its front doors, as well as pairing that data with point-of-sale (POS) statistics in order to gain a better view into shopper behavior. The solution, provided by Swarm, consists of a hockey puck-sized battery-powered Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensor tag, an app that runs on a smartphone or tablet, and a monthly service fee to a cloud-based software company for managing and analyzing the collected data.

The solution, known as Portal, is intended to provide data and analytics to small and midsize businesses that have, until now, been unable to afford the kind of automated data that larger retailers have been adopting, according to Ryan Denehy, Swarm's co-founder.

The Swarm Portal solution includes a battery-powered Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensor tag (left) that counts how many people pass by, and an app that runs on a storeowner's smartphone or tablet.
Swarm was launched in San Francisco in 2012. The company's first product was a traffic-counting device that employed a battery-powered Wi-Fi sensor to detect how many people were entering or leaving through an egress (based on the Wi-Fi signals received from their cell phones), and then forwarded that information back to a cloud-based server via a Wi-Fi connection. The company has thousands of customers—mostly mom-and-pop stores that sell specialty products—using the Wi-Fi-based sensor.

However, Denehy says, the system required a reliable Internet connection in the store, and complications involving firewalls and IT support for network configurations made this a difficult barrier to entry for the small retailer. Therefore, the company has developed a new sensor and service and named the solution Portal. The new battery-powered Portal wireless sensor combines a motion detector with a transmitter that sends sensor-based data, via the BLE protocol, to BLE-enabled smartphones and tablets within its read range, assuming those devices are running the Portal app. The tablet or phone can then forward that data back to Swarm's Portal cloud-based server via a cellular connection, without requiring a Wi-Fi-based Internet connection. An upgraded version of the Portal sensor, known as Portal Presence, also comes with a Wi-Fi receiver to measure walk-by traffic (pedestrians who pass the store without entering), by capturing MAC address transmissions from cell phones and then forwarding that data to a smartphone or tablet via BLE.

Because it uses BLE technology, the Portal wireless sensor's read range is limited to 150 feet. The Portal tag is designed to cache up to three days' worth of traffic data, Denehy says, allowing a storeowner the opportunity to collect that data via a BLE-enabled smartphone or tablet at anytime within that window.

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