The Complete Guide to Location Data

The movement of people and objects in the real world reveals valuable information that organizations can apply to many different initiatives. By collecting and analyzing the location data of current and potential customers, companies can glean insights that help with targeted advertising, investment decisions, commercial real-estate planning, and more. In this guide, we’ll take a deeper look at types of location data, how location data is collected, and how companies can use location data to grow and drive revenue.

What is location data?

Location data is geographical information about a specific device’s whereabouts associated with a time identifier. The movement of each device is assumed to be associated with a person and is used as an anonymous identifier to that individual’s movement and location.

Devices that allow tracking location data, like smartphones or laptops, help organizations understand how customers move and behave in the real-world. Understanding this movement can lead to better decision-making when it comes to marketing and advertising, forecasting and investing, and site-planning for a multitude of industries and organizations.

Types of location data

  • Real-time location data vs historical location data: Real-time location data tracks a device’s live movements as they are happening, providing up-to-date information about location by the second. Historical location data can give a detailed report on a device’s movement from days, weeks, or months before.
  • Deterministic location data vs probabilistic location data: Deterministic location data is data that relies on actual human behavior (i.e. the actual movement between or within zip codes, the coordinates of a device, etc.) Probabilistic location data is location information that is based off of past behavior and probability.

How is location data collected?

The recipe for location data requires three main ingredients: a signal, a receiver, and an identifier. Though we think of smart devices as transmitting signals, they are actually the receivers of signals from other pieces of technology when it comes to location tracking. Receivers, like mobile phones or desktop computers, are receiving signals from at least one of the following:

  • GPS (Global Positioning System): The global positions system, developed in the 1970s, is made up of 31 satellites that orbit around the earth. A device’s location is determined by calculating how long each satellite’s signal took to reach the device. At its most accurate, GPS signal can be extremely accurate within a 4.9 meter radius under a clear, outdoor sky.
  • Cell towers: Mobile devices are connected to cell towers in order to receive communication from other devices. A device can often identify multiple cell towers within close proximity. The location of that device can then be determined based on signal strength from each nearby tower.
  • Wi-Fi: Devices can use Wi-Fi for more accurate placement when GPS and cell towers aren’t available, or when these signals are obstructed by bad weather or indoor movement. Wi-Fi determines the location of a device by calculating the distance between the device and the ‘“access point” that allows the device to connect to and operate on the WiFi network.
  • Beacons: Beacons are small devices that transmit information via Bluetooth signal and are usually found in one single, static location. The device uses the strength of the signal to determine how far away from the beacon it is. Beacons can be incredibly accurate and can determine location within half a meter, but they can only emit Bluetooth signals in the locations they’re installed.

So, we have the smart device (or the receiver) and the technology that is transmitting to the receiver (or the signal), but we are missing just one component: the identifier. Each smart device is correlated with an identifier in order to understand an individual’s movement over time. This identifier is called a device ID. Both iOS and Android have unique identifiers (known as mobile advertising identifiers, mobile ad IDs, or simply MAIDs) that enable data to be pseudo-anonymously tied back to the phone where it was collected.

With the signal being sent to the receiver to determine movement and the identifier providing an anonymous proxy for the user, we are able to cook up fresh location data sets that can be served to companies in heaping helpings. So once organizations have all of this location data, how can they use it?

How can organizations use location data?

Location-based marketing and advertising

Brands can use location data to understand their customer’s daily routines, habits, and behavior. It’s possible to glean insights into where a brand’s audience lives, works, eats, shops, works out, etc. This allows for companies to get strategic about location-tailored marketing messages and ad delivery based on location.

For instance, if a healthy snack brand is able to see which grocery store locations their customers frequent most often, they might create coupons or deals that can be used at those grocery locations or advertise their products on the grocery store’s app or website. If that healthy snack brand sees that their customers are more likely to take specific buses or trains to work, they might determine that advertising on those buses or trains would be more effective than paying for billboard space. The more companies know about where their customers are going, the easier it will be to reach them in the places they visit both online and offline.

You can also use location-based marketing to segment your audiences and target them based on location. For instance, a clothing brand with locations in both Los Angeles and New York City will serve ads to their customers in each city based on that city’s demographic, current weather, and trending styles.

Predicting buyer behavior and forecasting investments

Location data from mobile devices helps to forecast earnings, number of customers, customer frequency, and other KPIs before they are formally reported. These insights are key for investment decisions. For instance, tracking trends in footfall and measuring the popularity of store locations can provide the insights needed to make important financial predictions such as which store locations might generate the most or least revenue, how many employees should be hired, and how much product should be stocked.

Measuring footfall rates and post-visit reports provides companies with the information they need to to predict when customers will increase and decrease to physical store locations and surrounding areas. Insights into store performance, such as average unique visits per month, number of repeat visits, and average visit length, can help companies manage inventory more wisely to reduce waste, schedule personnel more effectively, and redirect attention to less popular locations to determine why they’re struggling.


The use of location tracking can be used to plan where to open, close, or relocate company locations. By tracking the popularity of store locations and the movements of customers between store locations, it’s easier to predict which locations will provide significant ROI if a store is opened, which locations will fail, which stores should expand, and which stores should shutter their doors before they lose a company too much money. For instance, if a franchise coffee shop brand is able to see where their customers are traveling to during their daily commutes, they might be able to plant more coffee shop locations in areas that their customers are frequenting and therefore more likely to purchase a cup of joe.

Shipping and hauling

Location data can also be used to ensure goods are delivered on time and intact, plan efficient routes, and provide estimated delivery dates to customers. Most buyers want to track their packages and want to receive them in a timely manner. Location data helps get goods from point A to point B in the shortest time frame while also providing buyers with the security of knowing exactly where their package is and when it can be expected to arrive.

Buying location data

Generally, when purchasing location data, you’ll come across common attributes like longitude, latitude, altitude, elevation, timestamps, and place names. There is also location data available for purchase that covers mobile ad IDs, IP addresses, brand IDs, and category IDs. All of these attributes help map the movements of your audience in order to tell a story about who they are.

Data commerce platforms like Narrative make it easy to discover and buy location data that will give you the precise movement and location information you need. Narrative makes it easy to discover and buy the location data you need to feed your models, develop new insights, and improve decision making.

Selling location data

Does your organization collect and store location data? No matter what type of location data your organization collects, someone out there is willing to buy it. You could be generating an entirely new stream of revenue for your company by sharing that data through a commerce platform.

With Data Shops, Narrative makes it easy for you to quickly start packaging and selling your location data without spending significant time and resources.

Want to learn more about buying or selling location data? Speak to one of our experts today.

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