They see you when you’re shopping. They know when you’ve been browsing.

No, not the jolly fat man and his coterie of elves. In this case, it’s the merchants of Aalborg, Denmark, who have deployed a wide array of sensors throughout their annual Christmas market to track the movements of shoppers.

For the first time, the Aalborg City Business Association has installed a system called BlipTrack, made by Denmark-based BLIP Systems. It’s an intriguing experiment to see if merchants can gather the kind of insights and information from shoppers in the physical world that e-commerce sites gather routinely now from online customers.

According to the association, the goal is to get better metrics on such things as the number of attendees, where they park, and whether the market is increasing revenues for merchants.

“If we are not able to measure the impact of events, such as the Christmas market, which costs over 1 million DKK ($160,000 US) to arrange, then the event is not justifiable, and perhaps money could be better utilized elsewhere,” Flemming Tingbak, director of Aalborg City Business Association, said in a statement.


Above: A Blip sensor watches over the Danish city of Aalborg.

The sensors have been deployed throughout the pedestrian area in the holiday market, where they track the flow of pedestrians in real-time by collecting data from Wi-Fi gadgets such as mobile phones and tablets. This information lets the system know how long people take to move from one area to another, how long they linger, and which shops they visit.

The association and the company says the system maintains privacy by anonymizing and encrypting all information lifted from people’s devices. It’s a critical distinction that the association and the company say allows them to stay in compliance with Europe’s strict privacy regulations.

BlipTrack BT_Battery_open

Above: Inside one of the BlipTrack sensors.

The data that is gathered then lets the business association better understand what is working and what is not working about the holiday market. Information is shared with merchants so they can better understand retail browsing habits and buying patterns and can adjust times they open and close and number of staff they have on hand.


Above: An operator monitors the collection of data from the BlipTrack system.

The association has a deal to keep the system in place for four years. After the holidays, the city will continue to use the system to track issues like traffic and parking as it tries to address various urban planning issues.