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Shopify filed a patent that reflects its growing interest in in-person retail as its rivalry with Amazon heats up.
The patent application, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office on May 25, 2020, and published November 25, 2021, describes a system of sensors that could measure the density and behavior of shoppers in specific areas of a retail store.
The idea is that measuring traffic density could help a store owner determine what it is worth to display products on particular shelves or in specific areas of the store.
In many brick-and-mortar locations like grocery stores or convenience stores, manufacturers pay “slotting fees” or “slotting allowances” to display their products in a store. But, as the patent application notes, not all locations in a store get the same level of attention from customers.
“From the perspective of a merchant that is interested in purchasing (or leasing) display space in a retail store, not all regions of the retail store are equally desirable,” the patent application reads. “Advantageously, traffic density can provide a quantitative, accurate and unbiased metric with which to determine a value associated with displaying products in a region.”
The sensors’ measurements could include the number of people that enter a part of the store in a given amount of time, the average amount of time they spend in that part of the store, or the number of shoppers who interact with physical products over a specific period.
Shopify also filed the patent application with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and the European Patent Office. It is currently pending. A representative for Shopify did not return Insider’s request for comment on the patent application.
The patent application describes the display-space-management technology as a potential service offered to Shopify merchants.
Shopify is known primarily for its e-commerce storefront platform, but it does have a set of services that enable clients to blend their offline and online offerings. All Shopify plans come with POS Lite, including mobile and hardware point-of-sale accessories. Its POS Pro offering, which comes standard with Shopify Plus plans, includes enhanced features like buying online, pick up in-store capabilities, and inventory-management tools.
Omnichannel retail has become a more significant topic of discussion during the company’s earnings calls, especially as Shopify’s growth slowed in 2021 after reaching record highs in 2020 amid pandemic-related lockdowns.
Amazon’s Go stores similarly rely on sensors to power their “just-walk-out” checkout technology. Amazon has been lowering the cost of that tech as it seeks to make more of an impact in brick-and-mortar retail.
Shopify has recently taken steps to compete with Amazon more directly, though its executives have long said that the e-commerce players have very different goals. It quietly rolled out several new features that make its Shop app more of an Amazon-like marketplace, and it is gradually building up its Shopify Fulfillment Network.
Shopify has also been filing more patent applications over the last two years as it seeks to protect more of its intellectual property amid growing e-commerce competition, BetaKit reported.