Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tracking In-Store Shoppers

Time recently polled its online readers about the practice of stores tracking shoppers by following their smartphone signals or by facial recognition technology. Out of 294 respondents (as of the day I participated), more than half were against the practice. Here's the tally as of September 15:
  • 52% agreed that it violates their privacy and they'd avoid stores using such tracking.
  • 25% agreed that it "creeps me out a little" and they'd prefer to opt out.
  • 5% were neutral.
  • 12% weren't bothered, seeing this tracking as just another data point like the info in a credit report.
  • 5% thought it would be a positive if such tracking helped stores personalize product suggestions and promotional deals for individual customers.
Last November, a mall in California and one in Virginia started tracking shoppers via their mobile devices on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving, one of the season's biggest shopping days).

Although the malls posted notices about the tracking, the only way to opt out was to turn cell phones off. After a NY senator contacted the malls to question this practice, the tracking was suspended.

As the yearend holiday shopping season draws near, such tracking may again become an issue. New tests are about to begin in which shoppers are tracked via Wi-Fi accessed as they visit stores. Will the info be useful to retailers? Will consumers object?

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