Physical stores track movement to enhance customer experience

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

While most users have no qualms about online retailers tracking their movement via digital cookies to enhance their customer experience, they did felt uncomfortable when physical stores implemented the same policy.

The Big Brother phenomenon

A report from The New York Times reveals how big retailers track customer movement within the store through Wi-Fi signals. It has the ability to monitor the shoppers even though they did not connect to the store’s Wi-Fi as each mobile phone has a unique identifier that is searched by the store’s network. While the store discontinued the experiments amidst customer criticism, the article continued to say that other stores in other parts of the world have taken the technology to a different level.

Aside from keeping track of their customers within their stores, some brands harness technologies to determine their movements also, such as, facial expressions, preferences, and other personal information. For example, if customers enter their email addresses on an application while using the store’s Wi-Fi, that store would be able to record that customer’s email address and send them customized coupons or advertisements.

Similarly, other stores with facial recognition applications could also have access to the customer’s purchase history and shopping habits. Some facial recognition applications even have the capability to match shopper’s faces with their social media profiles. Lastly, the software also has the ability to send personalized coupons or vouchers to a customer’s smartphone while shopping inside the store.

Level the playing field

Needless to say, the public was not impressed. Many voiced out that their privacy was being violated, while others argued that the stores should have asked for permission before tracking customers. Cisco VP/GM Enterprise Video Group and CTO Emerging Technologies Group Guido Jouret defends the technology by arguing, “Brick-and-mortar stores have been disadvantaged compared with online retailers, which get people’s digital crumbs.”

Yet many consumers believe that deriving information from their digital crumbs is a far cry from actually tracking them inside the store. Despite their protests however, the trend of today’s technology shows that consumer voyeurism is only getting started.