Google Analytics: From Digital Space to Physical Space

Everyone knows Google Analytics (GA). Since its launch 13 years ago following the takeover of Urchin by Google, GA has become a standard in website analytics. However, at the time of its launch, for many companies, having a website was already an end in itself. Companies focused on design to increase website retention (primarily intended to provide information about a product or a company). The value of analyzing visitor flows and online behavior was minor or not perceived. Today, more than 10 years later, the question no longer arises. Several tens of millions of websites use the platform.

With the line between the digital world and the physical world blurring, as predicted by industry experts in recent years, a new question arises.  Much as was the case for online spaces, for many years now there has been growing interest to optimize the design of physical spaces. If the parallel holds, we are soon due to observe a flourishing of brick-and-mortar analytics. Assuming that the infrastructure to connect physical spaces is increasingly in place (WiFi, Bluetooth, smart lighting, etc.), the question becomes what analysis tools should we use to measure the efficiency and attractiveness of our physical spaces as we actually measure those of our websites? Do we have to invent a new model? Is the approach so different?

Before attempting to reinvent the wheel, I think we should look at what already exists and enjoy the learning curve experienced by the digital world to save time (and money). And this is where a tool like GA (among others) can be a very valuable first step.

Think about it, GA answers to a simple need: track and report website traffic (to know where the visitors come from, what they browse and how long they stay on the site) to increase visibility and optimize content to maximize conversions (the call to action). Do these insights not seem just as pertinent for physical spaces? It is not difficult to imagine a physical space as a website where people or connected objects become cursors that “click” on each of its pages just by being there (a sensor = a physical area = a digital page).

The ease of GA integration on a site was part of its KSF. It comes down to pasting a snippet of code in JavaScript on each of the pages that the owner wants to track. A 3-step process: Paste / Interpret / Optimize.

In the physical world, installing a sensor in a zone would be equivalent of pasting a code snippet on a web page. Again, a 3-step process: Install / Interpret / Optimize. The presence of a visitor (or more accurately of that visitor’s smart device) as detected by the sensor would signal to GA the equivalent of a “click”.  Without any change to its current paradigm, GA could ingest the data and allow the managers of physical spaces (stores, offices, hospitals) to identify the zones (pages) that are poorly performing or underutilized by using established practices such as funnel visualization, origin of visitors (GA referents) and time spent in the zone. Moreover, Google Data Studio allows easy (and free) manipulation of the GA data into tailored reports and dashboards which can be used to measure and optimize the performance of not only digital but also physical sites.

For example, a merchant can compare, side-by-side in the same tool, the performance of a product’s web page as well as the shop floor on which it is sold.  This is indeed possible today.

It is therefore a pertinent moment to reflect upon what might become the Google Analytics of the physical world. The surprising answer is that it could very well be Google Analytics itself. Either way, merging the digital and physical world has never been so close.

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