Stores Spy on Customers while They Shop

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
(photo: Besaife)

Having online shopping experiences tracked by websites has become an acceptable (if regrettable) fact of life for many individuals. But shoppers aren’t okay with retail surveillance in physical stores, some of which have backed off on keeping tabs on customers.


Many retailers are using new technologies that can track customers through their smartphones as they peruse merchandise. These stores include national chains, like Nordstrom, Family Dollar, Cabela’s and Mothercare, a British company, and specialty stores like Benetton and Warby Parker.


In the case of Nordstrom, company officials ended their experiment in monitoring shoppers (using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps) after receiving “some complaints,” Tara Darrow, a spokeswoman for the store, told The New York Times.


One consumer wrote on Facebook that Nordstrom’s efforts were “way over the line.” Some technology experts agreed.


“The idea that you’re being stalked in a store is, I think, a bit creepy, as opposed to, it’s only a cookie—they don’t really know who I am,” Robert Plant, a computer information systems professor at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, told the Times, noting that consumers can rarely control or have access to this data..


Thanks to technology provided by such tracking companies as California-based RetailNext, which boasts on its web site “Learn How Shoppers Behave in your Stores,” retailers can even track individual customers and tailor ads and discounts to them.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Attention, Shoppers: Store Is Tracking Your Cell (by Stephanie Clifford and Quentin Hardy, New York Times)

Marketing Company Follows 3 of 4 U.S. Households as They Shop (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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