New Fortinet solution offers retail analytics

COZUMEL, Mexico — Mobile online shopping promises retailers a giant untapped revenue stream.

That may be the case for some vendors, but a number of large retail chains probably feel more like having the strings of the mobile retail purse wrapped around their necks. Far too many shoppers walk into a store look at product they fancy and then whip out their smart phones and search online for another store offering the same product at a lower price.

The practice, now called show-rooming, is the scourge of many retailers. One possible solution is coming from an unlikely source – network security firm Fortinet.

At its 2014 Global Partner Conference here over the weekend, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-firm introduced a FortiGate unified threat management appliance offering with the capability of extending analytics capabilities to small and large retail operations.

In collaboration with retail analytics provider, Kiana Analytics, Fortinet announced a system that use the power of big data analytics, according to Kroush Saraf, senior director for product  management for Fortinet.

“This system, in effect, can help businesses reverse the show-rooming effect,” he said. “Instead of mobile browsing being a money loser for the retailer, it can be a source of valuable customer information, customer social contact tool and even revenue stream.”

Essentially, the system makes use of FortiAP wireless access points to provide connectivity for customers, FortiGate sensors to track customers inside a certain retail location. But the system also has features that monitor (with the customer’s permission) the customer’s mobile browsing activities within the store. The Kiana Analytics component of the system will help retail operators determine which locations are more frequented by store guests as well as what types of products they are searching for on the Internet with their mobile devices when they are in these locations. Kiana is a cloud-based service that collects customer Wi-Fi data for processing. Analyzed data is available to retailers through dashboards.

When a customer with a smart phone enters a store with such a system in place, the FortiAP is immediately alerted as the customer’s mobile device begins to search for a Wi-Fi signal. The customer is sent a message that offers free Wi-Fi access.

If the customer accepts, the system tracks the customer’s movements within the store using the Wi-Fi signals between the AP and the smart phone.

With this alone, Saraf said, store operators can determine in real-time which areas of the store are frequented by shoppers. This can help clue managers on where to position products and special offers.

When the customer initiates a mobile Web search on a smart phone, the system is able to report on that search.

“Operators can view a dashboard that presents the top searches occurring in the store in real-time,” said Saraf. “The system can show what products guests are researching, what is the store’s price for it and what is the competitor selling it for.”

This knowledge can help operators determine the best pricing or marketing scheme to adopt to counter show rooming.

The system can also be configured for social messaging, push marketing and even targeted signage messaging. For example, when customers are asked to sign on to the Wi-Fi service through their Facebook accounts the retailer can send them messages.

The system can keep track of frequent shoppers so that the next time they are back in the store, an advertising screen can pop out ads or special offers about the products they usually buy.

Privacy issues around mobile tracking can be addressed by requiring the customer to agree to have their mobile browsing monitored while at the store and to receive marketing messages in the future in exchange for Wi-Fi access, said Saraf.

No retail chain in Canada is using this system yet. A Fortinet partner is offering it to retailers in Australia.

Among the other products released by Fortinet on Monday were its new FortiGate/FortiWiFi-30D-POE (Power over Ethernet), FortiGate/FortiWiFi-60D-POE and FortiGate/FortiWiFi-90D-POE and FortiGate-280D-POE.

The appliances all integrate the full suite of UTM security features plus Wi-Fi access point control, switching, authentication, endpoint management and policy control in a single device.

This consolidated approach allows businesses to enforce policies across a number of device types and provide better security by having these devices plugged into and managed by a single FortiGate.

The FG-280D-POE, with a total of 84 ports, was purpose-built for smaller networks (such as retail locations and healthcare facilities) that want to take advantage of the very high port density to eliminate devices in their infrastructure, such as switches.

To boost wireless connections, Fortinet also released its FortiAP-221C and FortiAP-320C, which support the new 802.11ac wireless standard that offers data rates in excess of 1 Gbps. The products helps customers meet higher bandwidth requirements for guest Wi-Fi access without slowing down the performance of critical corporate data.

In addition, by using FortiAP access points or FortiWiFi models, retailers can segment their network in order to provide guest access while maintaining PCI and DSS compliance.

For organizations requiring broadband as their primary connection or continuity fail-over, Fortinet offers the FortiExtender-100B, an unobtrusive device that acts as a 3G/4G wireless WAN extender for improved relaying of critical data between a service provider and a FortiGate device.

The FortiGate and the FortiExtender devices can be separated by as much as 100 meters, allowing the FortiGate to be in a basement or wiring closet and the FortiExtender antenna to be mounted in a different location.

Fortinet also introduced two new switching appliances that extend the connected capabilities of the FortiGate platform.

The FortiSwitch-224D-POE is a rack-mount appliance with 24 (10/100/1000) access ports and 12 PoE ports, and the FortiSwitch-108D-POE is a desktop appliance that offers 10 (10/100/1000) access ports and 8 PoE ports.

These switches enable organizations to seamlessly integrate additional IP devices such as wireless access points, IP phones and other PoE equipment into the network.

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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