Fortinet Taps Into The Buyer's Experience In Retail

| About: Fortinet, Inc. (FTNT)
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Originally published on Aug. 27, 2014.

This is so different I had to write about it. Fortinet (NASDAQ: FTNT) has had a very successful business in the distributed enterprise space with its line of UTM (Unified Threat Management) devices for a decade.

Aside from restaurants, warehouses, and logistics, one of the biggest components of that space is retail. Just visit any mall to see specialized retailers in clothing, jewelry, electronics, baseball caps, home furnishings and sporting goods.

Each retailer may have over 1,000 locations, each one of which needs Internet connectivity and with that the full suite of UTM services including firewall, IPS, AV, VPN, and URL content filtering. UTM vendors like SonicWALL (Dell (DELL)), WatchGuard Technologies, and Fortinet have long filled that need with easy-to- configure yet powerful appliances that replicate the full stack of products that a large enterprise may have in its corporate headquarters.

As the UTM space evolved it drove these vendors to add WiFi and 3G/4G connectivity. What is new is that Fortinet is rolling out a capability, called Presence Analysis, which empowers retailers in three ways:

1. Store traffic analysis. With multiple WiFi access points (APs) the FortiGate device can triangulate on the WiFi single from customers' (and employees') cell phones. That data is communicated, securely, to a cloud processing service through which the retailer can access a dashboard and analytics. Heat maps and traffic patterns can be analyzed and store-to-store comparisons can be made that could drive adjustments to aisle layout and positioning of certain products. A store manager could even notice that employees were congregating in the back and not greeting customers. Other data that can be derived include:

  • Total visitor traffic
  • Real time visit capture rate
  • Dwell time duration
  • Repeat visitors, frequency
  • VIP Alert

2. Connect with customers. A visitor to a store could be asked to login with their Facebook ID which would give them free WiFi connectivity (great for coffee shops). Once identified they could get store coupons, directions to things they are interested in, etc. You can see the appeal to retailers who have struggled with leveraging social media effectively.

3. Influence marketing. Here is where it gets interesting and steps outside the realm of networking and security. Savvy shoppers will compare prices online when they are in a store. I have seen people do this at garage sales to see how much they can sell items for on Amazon or eBay! Because their search goes through a deep packet inspection device, the store could see those searches and know when to offer discounts on particular products. Intelligent digital signs could make the offer right there.

Sure there are privacy issue to contend with. If this is the way retail is going there will be the need for good disclosure of this type of invasive snooping on what you are doing. But shoppers will always appreciate getting a deal and improved shopping experience.

What intrigues me is seeing a mature network security platform vendor branching way outside its space with innovation.

Full disclosure: I was an executive at Fortinet for 15 months ending in January, 2008. I hold no stock in any publicly traded companies.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Additional disclosure: I was the Chief Marketing Officer at Fortinet from 2006-2008.