LIDAR is a technology associated strongly with the development of autonomous vehicles. However, increasingly it is being applied in other fields such as retail marketing. In essence it is a tool that is able to detect objects and work out their size and exact disposition. It uses laser light pulses to scan the environment as opposed to radio or sound waves utilised by RADAR and SONAR. In the autonomous vehicle market this means that self-driving cars can “see” their environment including other vehicles, pedestrians and obstacles like trees, road signs, bumps in the road etc. when driving. In retail marketing this same skillset can be utilised to map the actual customer experience in-store. You can determine which displays consumers walk past, identify the ones that capture their attention and measure how long they linger. Moreover, you can chart the busiest areas of the store, find out which products are picked up the most (and indeed the least) and even identify theft in real time as LIDAR is able to recognise anomalous data. And all without using PII, meaning there are no issues with privacy.

Initially LIDAR was incredibly expensive and utilised by academics and billion dollar R&D projects,  but with increased competition in the market, new technological advances and growing demand, costs have fallen significantly meaning it is likely we will be seeing the technology breaking into increasingly diverse sectors including retail, restaurants, leisure, education and healthcare.

In the retail environment the data it provides is particularly useful. Its power has been compared to that of digital marketing. In the digital world marketers can use granular data to understand shopper behaviour and refine their marketing and inventory. The same is now true of physical store, something that was difficult and expensive to do in the past. The offline retail environment has not been a happy place recently with more store closures recorded last year than ever before. However, LIDAR could be one way to start reversing this trend. By having a clearer understanding of how customers are interacting with stores retailers can tailor their customer experience to suit the new realities of the physical shopping environment. These insights can also be overlaid with additional data such as POS to create deeper insights identified using machine learning and AI. Furthermore by integrating online data too, the omnichannel experience can also be enhanced, improved and made more profitable.

As with any new data source the information must adhere to all data protection legislation and must be managed and processed in a compliant manner. As new datasets come online and the data ecosystem expands the data management structure becomes increasingly important so that the right data mix can be identified to maximise return on investment. Already we are seeing organisations flounder under the weight of their data capture, without adding a whole new dimension. The so-called Roaring 20s have been coined the era of data and it is incredibly exciting to see how emerging technologies can be applied to retail in terms of tailoring the customer experience to better engage and enthral the consumer, boosting both loyalty and spend.

If you want to know and understand more about the way data is changing the world you live in, or would like to know how data can add value to your business, please email me at


Dave Gurney

CEO, Alchemetrics - Expert in Data & Digital Marketing
enabling senior marketers to value from engaging customers online.