10 Sneaky Ways Companies Are Collecting Data to Understand Customers

Find out how and why they are doing it

“Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.” — Geoffrey Moore, author and consultant.

The continuous improvement of your business requires understanding of two key players: Your Current and Potential Customers. The more you know about them, the more you can improve the way they are interacting with your product(s) and if they are even targeted at all.

Therefore, over the years companies have resulted to create and use very sneaky techniques to understand customer behavior online and offline.

Most of the time, you don’t even realize that they are collecting information from you. Location, Activity, Patterns, Preferences, Demographics, and many other information of you are being collected on a daily basis. And although we might take some precaution measures, them collecting these data tends to improve our customer experience — so its easier to just ignore and enjoy.

Still Curious? Check out some of the most interesting ways companies are collecting data and how they are using it to improve your experience and their business:

1. License Plates

Mass collection of license-plate images is just one of many ways in which entities legally compile data on individuals. The data, including the license plate number and where the picture was taken, is then sold again to global information brokering companies. The same companies that offer credit checks and identity protection are also selling license plate scans showing where you’ve been, accompanied by records about what you own, where you live and who you know.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

2. Cookies

We have all seen this word in our browser settings, but what does it actually mean? Cookies help companies track visitors, delineate between multiple page views and single visits, personalize landing pages and allow users to stay logged in. This means that you can thank cookies for not having to reset password on a daily basis! ;)

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

3. Heatmaps

There are two most common types of heatmaps are mousetracking heatmaps and eyetracking heatmaps. Mousetracking heatmaps are more common because of their price effectiveness. The goal of using this technology is to understand your behavior on the websites, what works and what doesn’t.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

4. GPS Tracking

Every time you download an app or check-in on social media, your location data is stored. Many companies have faced problems with the transparency regarding location data collected, but many other times we have thanked these companies for locating our device whenever we misplace it or when we just want to use cool location stickers on our pictures. Many other times, it helps get you the right promotion at the right time when you are at a store or trying to find where to go.

Here are some interesting reads on the topic:

5. Signal Trackers

If you were a bit scared about the signal trackers, check this out. Stores can track the signal of your phone to collect data on your journey inside the store and make decisions regarding layout and special offerings.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

6. In-Store WiFi Activity

As a college student, I can guarantee that I’m open to giving any information companies want in exchange for free WiFi. Companies offering free WiFi not only collect the info from your social media profile or email address, but they can also track your activity on the web inside the store. With this information on your WiFi activity they could see if you visited Amazon inside their store or whatever other websites you might be checking to evaluate your purchase decisions, and things you might be able to buy based on profile.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

7. Credit or Loyalty Cards

This is one of the easiest way to get customers to give you their information and accurately track individual buying habits. Over time, the data you hold will detail the preferences of individual customers, what kinds of promotions they are likely to respond to, even what days they prefer to shop. Building such a rich customer profile will support the tailoring marketing messages, both in-store and through other channels such as email.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

8. Social-Media Activity

This one is the most obvious, and almost what ties all the other ones together. But, I think it would be a bad choice to not include such an important source of customer data on this list. Connecting someones social media account to the log-in of all other techniques has become a standard, and is the easiest way to create an identifier for the customer to be able to tie all other behavior to them. Social media marketing on Facebook, Instagram, etc. is also the easiest way to target exactly who you want without having to analyze individual people.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

9. IOT Sensors

We all are aware that cars, planes, computers, etc. have embedded trackers and sensors that send data constantly to various locations. This data is mainly used to not only improve the performance of your device, but also to understand your interactions with it and create personalized offers that might force you to buy something from them or fix certain issues.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:

10. Facial-Recognition Cameras

Lastly, facial recognition is one of those data collection techniques that are on the thin line between privacy obstruction and targeting customers, yet companies use it anyways. Large retailers are now using intelligent technology to instantly recognize customers and target offers based on their buying preferences, or even to just catch shoplifters.

Here’s an interesting read on the topic:


“The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” — Carly Fiorina, former executive, president, and chair of Hewlett-Packard Co.


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Author: Melody Ann Ucros

I’m a Masters in Big Data & Business Analytics Candidate @ IEBusinessSchool, and an Entrepreneurship Evangelist wherever I go. Follow Me

Reach out to me on Linkedin or email at melodyannucros@gmail.com✉️ .

#bigdata #masters #datascience #datacollection #customerfocused