SNOW: Detecting Shopping Groups Using WiFi

Jiaxing SHEN, Jiannong CAO*, Xuefeng LIU, Shaojie TANG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Detecting shopping groups is gaining popularity as it enables various applications ranging from marketing to advertising. Existing methods exploit WiFi probe requests to detect shopping groups by identifying co-located customers. However, the probe request is prone to suffer from device heterogeneity which might pose a severe data sparseness problem. More importantly, we find that a certain amount of shopping groups would separate sometimes which makes traditional methods unreliable. In this paper, we propose a shopping group detection system using WiFi (SNOW). Instead of collecting probe requests, SNOW utilizes the WiFi data from smartphones associated with the deployed access points (APs). We could thus obtain data from different devices and even ensure a data granularity of seconds using Arping. Besides, we exploit an effective heuristic extracted from two observations of shopping group dynamics to improve the detection performance. First, the probability of group separation differs in diverse areas. Second, the proportion of group participation and individual engagement differs in different activities of the mall. Therefore, APs under which shopping groups appear more frequently and barely separate should contribute more in measuring customer similarity. Lastly, we represent the measured similarity into a matrix format and apply matrix factorization with a sparsity constraint to derive grouping results directly. According to our experiments in a large shopping mall, SNOW improves the detection performance of baseline approaches by 13.2% on average.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3908-3917
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Internet of Things Journal
Issue number5
Early online date22 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.


  • Group detection
  • shopping group
  • WiFi


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