This coming Friday is marking the kickoff of the 2014 holiday shopping season. After feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and watching a football game, many shoppers in America will rush to the stores at the wee hours of the morning to snatch the best discounts of Black Friday or will wait for midnight by their computers in order to beat other shoppers to Cyber Monday’s best deals. In other countries, where we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving this week, holiday shopping is following a similar pattern anyway.
And of course, financial analysts who are tracking the performance of the retail sector will be watching every move. The official numbers may not be out for several months, between consumer spend indexes and quarterly earning reports, but traders want to buy their way into advance information to get an edge. And they do this with a combination of good old practices – and new, advanced technology.
When one does not have access to the well-guarded performance metrics of a retail store, how do they measure its performance? It’s actually quite simple: they use the time-tried eyeballs method. The more customers a store has, the more business it does, right? How do people get to these giant stores in suburban areas? They drive. So the answer to measuring store performance is simply to count cars on the parking lots of these stores. Back a few years, specialized analyst firms would purchase satellite imagery of store parking lots, and dutifully count cars.
Nowadays, they can pay college students a few bucks to fly a drone over said parking lot every hour. It’s a lot cheaper and heck, a lot of students would probably do it for free if they can have fun with the drone! Centralize the images, run image recognition software, and here is your basic shopping trend! Match license plate numbers with DMV addresses, cross-reference with census data – or the revenue bracket that you gave away in exchange for a few freebies from a marketing firm or a 0% APR credit card, and the data gets even more relevant.
Measuring performance of online stores is only slightly more complicated. You can’t really sniff Internet traffic to count online shoppers (even if you could, that would probably be reprehensible). But these shops have to ship the goods ordered, so applying the same monitoring methodology to truck traffic leaving these warehouses will yield the same result.
In trading, obtaining advance information is the key – as long as it’s obtained by lawful means. Counting cars or truck definitely fits that bill.