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    Retail Learning Labs Open at Wake Forest University

    RockTenn/Loews Foods-backed facilities to provide innovative shopper insights

    Farrell Hall Photo Credit: Ken Bennett/Wake Forest University

    Wake Forest University School of Business students can learn how to analyze and organize data yielding fresh, real-world insights into shopper behavior at the school's Center for Retail Innovation and RockTenn–Lowes Foods Retail Learning Labs. The labs' official opening ceremony is Friday, Nov. 14, at Farrell Hall on the Wake Forest campus, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

    "It's unique within an academic environment," noted Professor of Marketing Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation, which opened in 2012. "Opening up a picture of what happens in the store in a way that hasn't been done before, the RockTenn–Lowes Foods Retail Learning Labs will offer real-time learning and research opportunity for students and faculty, and key insights for the retail industry."

    The labs are set up within 10 Lowes stores across the Tar Heel State. Cutting-edge technology detects smartphone signals and tracks shoppers' movements through the market, recording where they stop and think over a purchase, as well as which merchandising and promotions catch their eyes and spur purchases. Because they can also link up with the stores' loyalty card, the labs can provide key data on how in-store stimuli influence purchase behavior, in addition to several other important analytics never previously captured in a live-store environment.

    "The ability to determine whether a product display can drive an in-store purchase, or watching whether shoppers consider an item because of a certain promotion can help retailers be more effective," explained Jon Kramer, VP - marketing for Norcross, Ga.-based RockTenn Merchandising Displays, the labs' other backer. "It is this real-time data delivered by the learning lab that makes it a real game-changer for retailers and vendor partners."

    Hands-on Experience

    The labs won't just identify shopper traffic patterns through the store, but also enable Wake Forest students and faculty to research behavior, collect real-time data and analyze results to provide actionable consumer insights. Innovative technology tracks smartphone signals, giving every store visitor a unique, anonymous identifier at each visit. In the future, consumers will also be able to download an app to receive special in-store offers while shopping. In place of a general coupon push via e-mail or text to a smartphone, these offers will be location-specific to store displays or products. Research in the labs can last 8 to 12 weeks per test, giving brands, faculty and students the chance to test variables during that period.

    "Having this real-time data for our students and faculty makes this a huge win," stressed Behm. "They will gain current, real-world insights from their data analysis, which gives the students hands-on experience before they graduate, and provides faculty with new research opportunities. Other schools have been buying data that is several years old, and for thousands of dollars. At Wake Forest, we are breaking new ground in business analytics with these Retail Learning Labs."

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