Moving On Up: The Business Benefits Of Location Data

How anonymised location data provides invaluable insights to retail, local authorities and place managers

We all carry mobile phones around with us. We know that they collect our data. But we’re probably not fully aware of the sheer value this data can provide, when analysed in the right way. Take location, for example. If urban authorities can understand how people travel across their towns and cities, they can design them to suit these needs. If retail businesses see how shoppers move round their stores, they can optimise sales. And in a pandemic, if we know how people interact in public spaces, we can help keep everybody safe.

Analysing this kind of movement data is no mean feat, however. Billions of data points must be assessed to determine where people are, and how they behave in any given location. PlaceDashboard, based at Bruntwood SciTech’s Manchester Science Park, was founded in 2015 to do just that. DisruptionNorth spoke to its CEO Clive Hall to find out more.

Location, location, location

PlaceDashboards founders – CEO Clive Hall and CTO Paul Sanders – had previous experience in vehicle tracking and the retail and consumer goods industry before launching the business. Their inspiration? A realisation that the traditional, bricks and mortal retail industry lacked the insight other industries were able to gain from movement data.

“Movement data is the key to truly understanding what is happening in the real world,” says Hall. “The challenge for us was to build an easy to use tool, that provides accurate, dependable and actionable insights that could lead to data-driven decision-making for any location and the entire physical retail and leisure economy.”

On the move

The PlaceDashboard analytics platform takes billions of anonymised GPS points captured from the apps we use on our phones, and applies AI, machine learning, and big data analytics to find patterns in the data. This enables retailers, landlords, place managers – essentially any organisation with an interest in knowing who visits their space, how, and why – to generate accurate insights and behavioural predictions for foot traffic in each location.

As Hall notes, this completely changes how these organisations make decisions.

“Up until now, they’ve only had access to inaccurate, generalised and often out of date research about how people use their space,” he says. “This research is conducted using street and exit surveys from a small sample of individuals, and is only carried out infrequently due to high costs. Now however, these professionals have access to up to date data as it pertains to their town centre, property, or travel hub – and those of their competitors. For the first time, it’s possible to know where customers travel from, where they visit, how they travelled and how frequently, with specificity.”

Ultimately, these insights help create compelling reasons to drive town centre regeneration, transport improvements, leasing decisions, retail asset acquisitions, to add property management value to tenants, and focus marketing efforts. It’s a boon for business from whichever angle you look at it.

Our cities and covid-19

From its unique insights into our movements, PlaceDashboard has been able to track the number of people in city centres across the UK during the coronavirus lockdown. This technology – which can distinguish between total movement across a set location and the number of people walking – made it possible to measure the success of the government’s instructions, and track when and how people returned to their cities.

“The pandemic has increased the importance of PlaceDashboard’s location behaviour analytics, as they enable organisations to align themselves as quickly as possible to changes in visitor behaviour patterns,” Hall says. “For managers and investors this data provides an early indicator of which companies will ultimately recover and which will not. For example, if a brand has historically depended on a specific group of consumers that has been severely affected by the current economic conditions, then the company will have a tough road to recovery unless it can capture a new type of customer.”

As local authorities scramble to adapt their public spaces for social distancing, these kinds of insights are truly invaluable to keep people safe.

“This technology can provide ‘hot spot mapping’, using aggregated movement data to identify locations and times of day where social distancing is more difficult to maintain,” Hall says. “This can be used to support decisions to implement one way systems or allocate street wardens to locations to encourage individuals not to dwell longer than necessary.”

Even before the pandemic, PlaceDashboard had begun to develop platforms focused on the public transport industry, working with London councils who are focusing on reducing car emissions through public transport, cycling and walking solutions. It’s clear that life in a pandemic has given this aim a renewed sense of urgency.

Could your business feature here? If you’re an innovative digital business in the north of England, we want to hear from you.