THL Talks: Steve Russell of Prism Skylabs on Black Friday In-Store Data Collection

THL Talks With Prism Skylabs

Most savvy online retailers are already well aware of the importance of digital data collection in cultivating and effectively targeting the right audience.  Having a similar system in place for brick-and-mortar retailers is just as important, while being a lot trickier to implement.  How do you watch customers in-store?  Who does it?  What about privacy?

Two-year-old San Francisco start-up Prism Skylabs is trying to answer those questions.  Finding the right answers is particularly key at this time of year, with retailers vying to get back into the black.  We chatted with the company’s CEO, Steve Russell, about the best ways stores can use behavioral data to get the most out of the holiday shopping season.

Steve RussellThe High Low:  How does the Prism Skylabs data collection system work?

Steve Russell:  Prism Skylabs is a cloud service that uses the cameras that are already in stores to help businesses understand their customers and create a better experience.  Our software turns those cameras into analytics sensors that give owners a set of metrics for the store that’s similar to what you can get on a Web site.  Secondly, we use those cameras to let owners look in on their spaces so that they can make sure everything is laid out and arranged exactly as it should be.

THL:  Can you give us an example of a piece of data collected and a subsequent change made?

SR:  In terms of statistics, we’re keeping anonymous counts and path information, so a store can compare several store designs to see what’s better, use stats to see what’s selling, and use stats to judge their in-store advertising.

THL:  Who are some of Prism Skylab’s clients?  What kind of retailers need access to this sort of data most?

SR:  We work with large distributed retailers who have problems implementing new design concepts, such as stores within stores, or are generally trying new things.  We also work with retailers who have hundreds of sites around the world [such as Famous Footwear] and have to maintain quality throughout all of them.

THL: Let’s talk holidays.  Is it really all about Black Friday?  Shouldn’t retailers have the data mining ability in place beforehand?

SR:  Yes.  One, it’s the most critical part of the year for most retailers.  It’s hard to overstate how much timing and thought has gone into store design for that time.  One way Prism can be used is to make sure that stores are doing what they’re expected to be doing.  All the planning is for naught if someone forgets to put out the right product, or follow the guidelines correctly.  You have to make sure all the planning doesn’t go to waste.

The second thing is that the holiday season is relatively compressed.  So stores face decision making cycles.  Prism can help retailers make new decisions in case what they’re doing isn’t effective.  We make meaningful changes in time for them to actually still be beneficial.

Prism Skylabs pathmapA data visualization from Prism Skylabs.

THL:  If a retailer somehow misses out or messes up on Black Friday, what can they do to make up for it?

SR:  It’s about what they can learn from that.  How can they shorten the time for them to change what they’re doing?

THL:  Recently, there have been a number of publicly aired consumer concerns about being watched in-store.  How do you deal with that?

SR:  The big concerns lately have been from customers who don’t want to be tracked by their cell phones, which I find very intrusive and we don’t do.  Prism Skylabs is a privacy-protective alternative to those kinds of technologies.  We’re the only video tracking company on the planet that has privacy protection built into it.  People are blurred or removed from the scene entirely for owners to look at the video.  Retailers need video and data to build a better experience, but of all the tools on the market today, Prism is the most protective of individual privacy.

THL:  Great!  So to wrap up, what’s the number one mistake that retailers can make around the holidays?

SR:  The number one mistake many make is not planning through.  After having made a meaningful investment and being prepared, to miss out on making sure all those policies, plans, and recommendations are implemented effectively is a huge mistake.  The other mistake is not being able to respond quickly enough to things they may have done that weren’t optimized.  After all, the next Black Friday is a long way away.   

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