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Stores Track Shoppers: Your Favorite Retailer Could Be Using Cameras And Cell Phone Signals To Stalk You

By Sanna Chu on July 15, 2013 5:51 PM EDT 0

Nordstrom
Nordstrom was part of a rise in stores that track shoppers with new technologies, until May following customer complaints. However, other retailers continue the practice of using cameras, cell phone signals and apps to monitor in-store customers. (Photo: Reuters/Rick Wilking)

The practice of stores tracking shoppers is on the rise, thanks to sophisticated technologies that allow retailers to determine how long you shop, how many times you visit and even your mood when shopping. Retailers can now use cameras, cell phone signals and apps to gain more insight about its customers.

The New York Times reported that last fall, Nordstrom started experimenting with new technology that allowed it to track customers' movements by following the Wi-Fi signals from their smartphones. But the department store discontinued the practice in May after hearing some complaints from customers.

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However, other retailers, including national chains, like Family Dollar, Cabela's and Mothercare, and smaller boutiques like Benetton and Warby Parker, are testing these new technologies to learn more about customers. Stores track shoppers to decide on store layouts and offering customized coupons.

While this practice can be beneficial to both retailers and customers, some technology experts say that tracking is disturbing.

"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.

There are many companies that provide stores with technology to monitor its customers. One is RetailNext, which uses video surveillance to differentiate men from women, and children from adults and determines how the different groups navigate in-store. If a shopper's phone's Wi-Fi setting is turned on, a store that offers Wi-Fi can pinpoint where the shopper is in the store, even if the shopper does not connect to the network. RetailNext also allows store to recognize returning shoppers, because mobile devices send unique identification codes when searching for networks.

Brickstream offers a similar product, using video footage to separate adults from children and determines the most popular aisles by counting how many people are in particular area of a store.

Realeyes, based in London, takes it one step further with super sharp camera lenses and data-processing that allows facial recognition to monitor shoppers' happiness levels.

Synqera, a Russian startup, sells software that tailors ads to a customer's gender, age and mood, determined by facial recognition.

Nomi, of New York, uses Wi-Fi to track customers' behavior in a store, but also provides retailers with a shopper's personal information. For instance, if a shopper downloads a retailer's app or provides an email address when using in-store Wi-Fi, Nomi provides stores with a profile of that customer that could include the number of recent visits, products the customer was looking online and purchase history.

"I walk into Macy's, Macy's knows that I just entered the store, and they're able to give me a personalized recommendation through my phone the moment I enter the store," Corey Capasso, Nomi's president, told the Times. "If I'm going and spending 20 minutes in the shoe section, that means I'm highly interested in buying a pair of shoes."

Do you think stores tracking shoppers is creepy or cool? Let us know in the comments.

Follow @SannaChu

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