Bob Koblovsky, of Sysorex, was promoting new technology to help retailers track movements and habits of shoppers during the Retail Council of Canada conference.

California tech company introduces its ‘passive’ sensors, which pick up on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular signals to help retailers track shoppers and shipments.

Francine Kopun, Business Reporter
Toronto Star, June 1, 2016

Imagine your trip through a shopping mall being tracked by sensors and that information – stripped of your personal data – being collected for mall owners or retailers.

“It’s understanding a consumer journey with a larger view of ‘How do I engage my customer?'” said Bob Koblovsky of Sysorex, the California public company marketing the service at the Retail Council of Canada’s annual conference, which began Tuesday.

The company is running a pilot project with a major mall owner in Canada and will soon pilot the program in a Canadian bank, said Kobvlovsky.

This is how it works: Passive sensors installed in the mall (or bank) pick up Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular signals from personal electronic devices carried by shoppers, with each device represented on a computer monitor by a separate moving icon.

The installed sensors poll the environment every six seconds, quickly enough to give retailers the ability to send out a coupon to a customer with a loyalty app as they near a store.

Five sensors about the size of a Samsun phone can cover approximately 5,000 square feet and can be painted to blend in with the environment.

The technology can be used by security guards, enabling them to respond to a surge in the number of people in an area of the mall, which could indicate the presence of teenage gangs – a problem in some areas of the U.S., Koblovsky said.

It could also be used to collect information on devices present at the scene of a crime, although police would need to have a warrant to get it, he said.

But the real value to retailers is that the data can be gathered, analyzed and distilled to provide information on what people are doing in the mall. Where do they go after they leave the food court? How much time do they spend in the bookstore? Are they visiting daily or weekly? How many new visitors come to the mall each day?

Kobvlosky compares it to knowing a person’s license plate number – knowing it tells you nothing personal about the owner, the driver or other occupants.

“It’s passive. I know nothing about you, you’re just an icon,” said Koblovsky, of the widgets moving on a screen beside him, set up to monitor the movements of people in an office in Baltimore, Md., for demonstration purposes.

But shoppers who download loyalty apps should know this: Permissions granting retailers the right to gather more detailed information about you through your phone may be buried in the terms and conditions of the app.

“The question is, who reads the terms and conditions?” Koblovsky said.

Less than 3 per cent of people in malls have loyalty apps, he said, but the upside is that having the loyalty app can open up a whole new experience for some customers, creating the possibility for retailers to provide individualized service to customers as they arrive in-store, based on their shopping history.

Sysorex has partnered with Telus to offer the service in Canada.

Telus has also partnered with, to offer companies employing truckers the possibility of tracking drivers, to ensure they aren’t driving too long, too fast or letting the engine run unattended.

The device also tracks when truck maintenance is required.

Lore Quist, regional sales manager for Ontario, says that using the word “tracked,” doesn’t tend to go over well when it’s introduced to employees.

But there are advantages to the drivers of the system – the main one being that they don’t always have to drive their trucks back to a central location at the end of the day, but can park them closer to home – a big advantage in the GTA.

Chad Saliba, senior partner and manager of the Internet of Things partner ecosystem at Telus, says the phone company evaluates partners closely.

“We’ve been very careful to make sure they’re relevant… and bring the right balance of privacy, business and consumer value.”