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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shopper Tracking Device Embedded in Store Mannequins

John Galt

The search for predictive behavior technology to target shopping habits has been a contentious one in the United States. Several years ago a notice appeared at Promenade Temecula in California, and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. which advised shoppers that their cell phone signal would be used to track them as they move from store to store. Despite privacy assurances, that test-run produced enough outrage to force the UK maker of the technology, Path Intelligence, as well as mall management to halt the surveillance. Senator Charles Schumer was embroiled in the debate and subsequently put forth a Code of Conduct "to promote consumer privacy and responsible data use for retail location analytics." It's been described as a step in the right direction, while other lawmakers still see major privacy gaps.

Nevertheless, a new shopper tracking system is being rolled out in the UK which will be embedded into store mannequins. Meanwhile, some of the earlier pushback in the U.S. seems to be fading on news that the government appears to be encouraging strong regulations, potentially opening the door for such systems to be used in the United States. 

This particular system in the UK, Iconeme, is voluntary in that it works from a specific app downloaded by users. It is important, though, for anyone considering the app to know that it's not just about your shopping convenience. The data is a two-way street. This is a hallmark of other convenience-based applications, as cited below.  
Three British retail outlets have begun using a technology called VMBeacon in their store mannequins, so that shoppers with the appropriate app can check details about the clothes that the mannequins are wearing, and the stores can learn more about their shoppers.


The Iconeme app will alert users when they are within 50 meters of a VMBeacon, telling them what content is on offer. The system uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a type of Bluetooth connectivity that is built into many modern phones. BLE is the same technology that underpins iBeacon, Apple’s platform for tracking iPhone users as they go through retail environments, as well as similar efforts on the Android front (the Iconeme app works on both platforms).

And yes, that’s part of the game here too – VMBeacon tracks customers as they stroll through suitably equipped shops, giving retailers data about shoppers’ age, gender and location, as well as what they’ve looked at and whether they went on to buy it online. Shoppers can control what data they’re giving out through the app’s privacy settings. (Source)
It remains to be seen whether shoppers will continue embracing this Minority Report world that is taking shape as we begin to have a two-way interaction with the things around us. Evidence does suggest that Europeans have historically not pushed back, as this type of technology has appeared in different forms for years. 

And while there was earlier pushback from shoppers in the United States, according to recent posts from Path Intelligence, resistance might be loosening; business appears strong, and they are now an award winner in retail technology. Moreover, retail analytics has now become a highly competitive industry that is leading some to believe that physical consumer tracking will become the norm. 

Here is how typical data harvesting and analysis works:

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