New iOS limits WiFi tracking for retailers

Apple's September press conference held a lot of great news for retailers with the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, but there is one update that could hinder in-store tracking.

With past versions of iOS, each phone had a unique media access control address (MAC), which allowed retailers to identify customers who logged on to in-store WiFi and track them not only within the store, but also when they made return trips. The new iOS 8, though, randomizes an iPhone's MAC address every time it connects to a WiFi network.

This means that retailers who were collecting customer data via WiFi can still track customers in the store, but once they leave there will be no way for them to tell if they come back, severely limiting the picture they can form of their shopping behavior.

"When you randomize the MAC address, you only get a snapshot of a customer in-store without any matching historical data—this renders current WiFi analytics almost totally useless since there is no way to correlate historical data with real-time data," Marius Mornea, chief technology officer at Onyx Beacon, explained to Internet Retailer.

Of course, there's still an option for retailers who want to get the most out of tracking: Apple's increasingly popular iBeacons. The iOS 8 update could provide a further boost to the in-store tech that has already been deployed in Lord & Taylor, Macy's (NYSE:M) and Duane Reade (NYSE:WAG) stores.

Retailers shouldn't abandon WiFi en masse, though. Having an app to communicate with beacons is central to getting the most out of in-store promotion, and retailers can use beacons to prompt shoppers to download if they don't already have the app. Some content may even require an Internet connection to pull up on shoppers' phones, making beacons the trigger that launches content for location-based marketing.

For more:
-See this Internet Retailer story
-See this The Verge story

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