What satellites know

J.C. Penney’s troubles are reflected in satellite images of its parking lots

One satellite data startup shows how the company’s traffic has decreased along with its stock price.

What satellites know

10%
The percentage drop of cars in J.C. Penney’s parking lots year-over-year for Q1 so far, according to satellite data company Orbital Insight
What satellites know

J.C. Penney’s troubles are reflected in satellite images of its parking lots

One satellite data startup shows how the company’s traffic has decreased along with its stock price.

J.C. Penney is shutting down 130 stores after five years of struggling to attain full-year profitability, according to Forbes.

That’s no surprise to Orbital Insight, a satellite data company that tracks the health of major retailers by analyzing images of their parking lots.

The number of cars in J.C. Penney lots was down 5 percent year-over-year in Q4 of 2016, and is down 10 percent year-over-year for Q1 so far, Orbital Insight said.

Play Dirty

See More

Orbital Insight, a venture capital-funded satellite intelligence startup based in Palo Alto, tracks 250,000 parking lots for 96 retail chains across the U.S.

An image of a Cabela's parking lot taken by Digital Globe and analyzed by Orbital Insight.

An image of a Cabela's parking lot taken by Digital Globe and analyzed by Orbital Insight.

It also analyzes things like poverty (by tracking building height and rooftop material), oil inventory (by looking at images of tanks and drilling rigs), and agricultural yields (by observing crops and analyzing weather data). The company also works with the U.S. government, although it won’t say which agencies.

Orbital Insight’s parking lot figures track pretty closely with J.C. Penney’s stock price.

The change in cars in J.C. Penney parking lots versus its stock price.

The change in cars in J.C. Penney parking lots versus its stock price.

Orbital Insight doesn’t actually capture satellite images; that’s done by companies like Digital Globe, Planet, BlackSky, UrtheCast, and Google’s Terra Bella, which make up the budding remote sensing industry. That industry is growing fast, picking up clients and money from technology investors. Images are getting crisper, machine analysis of satellite images is getting better, and these companies are launching more satellites into orbit. There are more than 1,300 satellites orbiting Earth, including GPS, defense, and communications. It’s expected that the remote sensing industry will add another 600 by 2020.

Correction: An earlier version of this story used outdated numbers for Orbital Insight's parking lot tracking. It is now 250,000 parking lots and 96 retailers.

Want something different?