In my retail days, one of my major objectives was to design a profitable store layout. I had to make it easy for customers to find the products they were looking for and effectively display promotional materials that helped sell those products. Success is achieved when the retail design allows customers to intuitively find products, educate themselves on each product of interest, and ultimately make a purchase with as little hand-holding as possible.

The problem is that there is no way to measure, let alone predict, the success of a certain layout or promotional display. Success often comes from trial and error and by what seems to work well, both largely anecdotal measures. For large corporations with hundreds of stores to set up and thousands of products to sell, this is a major problem. The crystal-ball method for predicting success leaves much to be desired.

The In-Store Marketing Institute believes it has found a solution. Last week, the institute unveiled the results from its test project, PRISM. PRISM stands for "Pioneering Research for an In-Store Metric." The institute's goal is to develop a standardized ratings system that resembles the Nielsen Ratings system used in television. Ultimately, this new ratings system can determine the success of a store design by measuring what is being called the in-store reach. The initial four-week pilot project used infrared beams set up in 10 different stores to measure customer traffic. This data was then matched with the point-of-sale data collected from the register to develop the metric.

You might think this sounds a little hokey, but then look at the list of sponsors: Proctor and Gamble (NYSE:PG), Kellogg, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Miller Brewing, 3M (NYSE:MMM), and Walt Disney (DIS). The In-Store Marketing Institute was able to recruit Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Kroger (NYSE:KR), and Walgreen (NYSE:WAG), which volunteered their stores for the pilot project.

As an investor, I am all for the success of PRISM. It should help companies spend less to make more. As a shopper, though, I can't help but get a creepy feeling. Not only is there is a chance the shopping cart is being tracked and the closed-circuit camera is following me, but now I might be tripping an infrared beam with every other footstep.

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Fool contributor Matthew Crews welcomes your feedback anytime. He does have a long position in Coca-Cola. The Fool's disclosure policy is designed for maximum efficiency.