Retail Online To Offline Company Spotlight: Placemeter

Placemeter, a physical location analytics company, announced a $6M series A last week, increasing its total funding to $7.8M as of 2012. The company uses video feeds to collect and analyze data around a variety of factors such as foot traffic, dwell rates, and even the velocity of movement to derive insights. While this company tangentially competes with other physical analytics players, Placemeter has a unique angle in how it uses data for purposes such as city planning and development.

I had a chance to catch up with David Fine, who works on product and community at Placemeter, and he spoke more about the company and what they are up to. You can see a summary of our conversation below.

What is Placemeter doing:

Placemeter is creating a real-time data layer, measuring physical activity and providing contextual information around specific locations. While the legacy method involved individuals manually counting the number of people via a clicker, the company enables its customers to use new technology to monitor anything that is happening on the street such as balk rates (e.g. how many people look into your store but decide not to enter), engagement rates, and other traffic details. The use-cases for this data vary and range from public works initiatives to private sector businesses that want to gauge performance in specific locations. The product is meant for customers who have been “starved for data” and to assist in helping clients make more data driven decisions.

How it works and how data is collected:

The company takes raw video footage and feeds that into algorithms that dissect, extract, and publish the data to its real-time data platform. Customers can request reports for this data, which are produced ad-hoc and currently based on the customer’s unique needs.

The data streams are collected from a variety of sources. In addition to public video feeds, the company also works directly with city agencies, private businesses, and crowd sourced video feeds from your average Joe. Users can take their old mobile devices, point them toward the streets, and then direct the video streams towards Placemeter in exchange for monetary compensation. The company is currently paying its users ~$50 per month in exchange for video feeds in New York. No word on how many phones are currently on the platform.

Business model and clients: 

Placemeter’s business model is fairly straightforward selling data, analytics, and insights to both public and private clients. While the company did not specify the customer mix, it did say it was working with public groups and private retailers providing insights on a variety of data points. The company believes that eventually the data will enable Placemeter to create a multi-tiered pricing and compensation structure with the lowest level of data sold for basic metrics and the highest level for advanced analytics using the data to measure things such as balk rate, performance tracking, and more.

Risks and privacy concerns:

Privacy and security, of course, is top of mind for most individuals – especially as of late with the recent Target, Home Depot, and iCloud hacks. We can also see this with the latest fiasco at Philz Cofee, a local bay area coffee chain that was using an analytics company to track its customers. If you are interested in learning more, check out the article I wrote here. Placemeter is addressing this concern by sticking to three “commandments.”

  1. Placemeter never records video. Ever. All data is anonymously aggregated and then analyzed in real-time, there is no video storage taking place.
  2. Placemeter will not build anything to individually track people. That means there is no “match hashing” for promotions and no personally identifiable information (PII) is collected.
  3. Placemeter doesn’t track data in your home or a private location without the owners consent. While the company does give you performance numbers (e.g. balk rate), it will not tell you what customers are doing once inside a private location.

This combination of factors should help ease people’s minds about what how the technology works and what the company is actually measuring.

Looking ahead: 

Going forward, the company hopes to continue developing its video streams as well as expanding its real-time video platform. Placemeter also wants to create an ecosystem of apps that can take advantage of the data they are providing. This can include location-based games, online to offline commerce, advertising technology, and much more. The company believes that the number one driver of growth is going to be its self-serve platform where users can easily log in and consume insights at any time.

In conclusion, Placemeter is tackling a big problem using a new approach to data collection and interpretation. The company is also positioning itself in a unique light by also working with public entities with the eventual goal of helping disrupt traditional surveyors and other obsolete processes.

*Note: This interview took place before the latest round of funding was announced.

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