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Powerful insight into customer behaviour through mobile data

Wednesday 7 November 2018 Catchment AnalysisData Insight & AnalyticsRetail Consultancy


Dr. Chris Thompson's picture
By Dr. Chris Thompson

The amount of data we capture everyday through the internet, social media, communication and the Internet of Things (IoT) is truly phenomenal. As a result, we have a much clearer picture than ever before of where people go, what they do and why they do it. A great example of this, is the location data captured through mobile phones - growing in volume due to our ongoing obsession with smartphones and mobile technology.

Understood and processed correctly, mobile data represents an incredibly valuable data source in being able to analyse patterns of consumer behaviour and tackle some of today's most challenging business questions. Recognising this, CACI have partnered with mobile data companies to provide access to data from mobile devices across the world to track the customer journey around any given location. Extending the value of the data, we combine mobile data with our own proprietary datasets such as Acorn and Retail Footprint - adding demographic and retail context that previously has remained unknown.

Blending mobile data with demographic and retail data provides an unrivalled understanding of the dynamics of retail destinations and the complexities of shopper dimensions over time.

First of all, what do we mean by mobile data and what should you know?

It's important to understand that location data from mobile phones can be captured several different ways.

  • Telco data
    Possibly most commonly referenced, is the location captured using the device's signal by a telecommunications company. On account of high mobile phone usage, this data offers significant benefits in both its volume and geographic coverage. Nevertheless, as the phone's location is triangulated through the service provider's network infrastructure, precision can vary between 50-100 metres.
  • GPS Data
    Another method of acquiring a mobile phone's location is through its GPS, typically triggered by one or more of the many apps installed on the handset. Compared to Telco Data, GPS technology offers significantly more precise location information, reaching levels of accuracy below five metres. However, it's important to understand that coverage is dependent on the nature of the apps using 'location services' to collect the data. Therefore, this can introduce a certain level of bias that must first be understood and secondly modelled out.

In both cases, the value and potential application in understanding consumer behaviour cannot be denied. However, it should be noted that in its raw form, mobile data contains personal and sensitive information which must be handled approriately. Consequently, CACI only work with anonymised non-PII data that has the home location of the device aggregated to an acceptable geography.


Protecting individual privacy while working with mobile data cannot be stated strongly enough

In the first instance, the data must have been collected with the necessary consent and adhere to local privacy regulations such as the EU GDPR. Even with the correct consent, CACI apply aggregation and anonymisation techniques to maintain strict ethical privacy standards independent of regulation -  committing to working with data providers that embrace strong privacy and security measures themselves.


Mobile data and location analytics

Whether you work in property, marketing, customer analytics or pure data science, using mobile data correctly can provide an edge in understanding your business (e.g. monitoring footfall, quantifying the catchments of retail destinations or identifying the day/time when people are shopping). However, it is only when combined with geodemographic and market data, that the true value of the data can be unlocked, providing true context around complex consumer behaviour, shopper missions and the role of physical space in omnichannel retailing.

The ability to append Acorn to the home postcode of the mobile phone provides a truly unique opportunity for consumer analysis.

Understanding the Dynamics of a Shopping Destination

Unlike standard high street footfall counters, mobile app data can capture unique visitors, frequency and dwell time. Additionally, when data such as Acorn are added, it is possible to understand the composition of consumers in a store, shopping centre, retail park or high street through the course of the day. This is particularly powerful when footfall is on the decline in some areas - who is leaving and where are they going?

Taking a snapshot of data for the West End in London, we can begin to understand the dynamics of this active retail and social hub within the capital by seperating out those visits on a weekday morning by residential customers and workers. 

*On a weekday morning, workers represent two thirds of visitors to the West End, and over 60% of these workers are from the two most affluent Acorn categories, Affluent Achievers and Rising Prosperity.


Extending this anlysis further, by using mobile data blended with Acorn, we can establish how different demographics engage with different areas within this part of central London. Executive Wealth are affluent older family groups who typically live in suburban areas commuting into the capital. This group are 11% more likely to visit Pall Mall, 10% more likely to visit Great Portland Street and 8% more likely to visit Bond Street than the average visitor. The offer within these premium areas aligns well to their Acorn group's high levels of disposable income, demonstrating they are succesfully capturing their target audience. 


Identifying Shopper Missions

It is clear that retail is undergoing somewhat of a structural shift -  as the path to purchase is becoming increasingly more complex and shoppers are demanding more experience, increased convenience and an offer consistent across all channels. Therefore, understanding the trip patterns of consumers, the extent of catchments for each retail destinations and how consumers interact with other destinations is becoming increasingly important.

Consequently, CACI have integrated mobile telco (coded with Acorn) data along with credit/debit card data into its latest development of Retail Footprint – Europe’s leading catchment model.  Continuing with the West End example, it is possible to capture the true reach of the centre and identify where different demographic groups travel from to the centre. Looking more closely at Carnaby street, it’s possible to derive that 96% of Carnaby Street shoppers visit elsewhere in the West End during their visit. As would be expected due to their proximity, nearby Kingly Street and Argyll Street are popular with Carnaby Street shoppers, but other zones visited include Berwick Street, Wardour Street and Heddon Street. 


How can I action this information?

By blending mobile data with geodemographic and retail market data, businesses can better understand their customers, by providing complete contextualised demographic consumer data beyond any in-house customer records – leading to advancements in:

  • Monitoring the demographic variations in dwell, footfall, conversion and frequency over time
  • Understanding cannibalisation from new store openings and the sales transfer/customer retention when closing or relocating sto
  • Measuring the impact of strategic actions such as local marketing campaigns and out-of-home advertising
  • Identifying which competitors selected customers are shopping with
  • Quantify the true ‘halo-effect’ of retail space and its direct contribution to online sales – raising questions around the need for showrooming and other more diverse formats.



In a world that now creates more data in a day than it used to in a year, businesses not only face the problem of understanding their customers, but also how to practically use the insight they have to improve performance. Is mobile data alone going to provide all the answers? Certainly not. However, by understanding its value, being aware of its limitations and linking mobile phone data with geodemographic and retail market insight - it presents a view of consumer behaviour and the dynamics of retail destinations that has previously remained unknown. 

What is clear, is that the retail environment is changing faster than ever before. Customer behaviours, preferences and buying habits are constantly evolving and buying journeys are becoming increasingly spread across a growing number of channels. Customers dictate where, when and how they want to interact with shopping destinations, and by utilising mobile data correctly, the owners and occupiers of space will be able to create a location strategy that best engages with today’s consumers.

Get in touch to find out how we can help you use mobile data to enhance your understanding of people and places.

Chris Thompson reveals the power of mobile data when combined with proprietary datasets such as Acorn and Retail Dimensions - providing unrivalled insight of centre dynamics, catchments and customer behaviour across the UK and rest of world.

Powerful insight into customer behaviour through mobile data


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