Analyzing the Health of Retail Locations Through Satellite Imagery

Many suburban shopping centers are facing difficulties these days. Location — as always — is one of the main elements defining potential retail succes. But how to predict what a location will do to a business on the long term? Orbital Insight offers help. The California-based startup uses satellite imagery to track the performance of retail locations by counting parked cars.

The health of a retail location is made up by lots of different elements, but one of the main elements that Orbital Insight found for their analysis is the grouping of parked cars over time. The company, that calls itself “a macroscope for understanding earth”, counts the number of cars and the way cars are grouped on a parking lot. This provides valuable information about the future of a retail location. By analyzing millions of satellite images at a time, Orbital Insight knows whether retail locations will make it or not.

Take the American department store chain JCPenney. After five years of fighting to increase revenues, the company finally had to close 130 stores across the United States. For Orbital Insight this was not very much of a surprise — a 5% annual decrease in occupied parking lots was already showing a decline in customer numbers.

The model is mainly helpful for large-scale car-centered retail locations. The company is currently tracking over 250,000 parking lots for 96 retail chains. In urban cores and more traditional shopping streets that don’t rely on cars so much, the model is most probably less accurate. Other elements such as walkability, attractiveness and urban density define would be more decisive for retail success in these places. But this does’t mean that satellite tracking won’t provide answers. Orbital Insight tracks and combines all kinds of data provided by satellite imagery to monitor any micro-trends in real time.