In the futuristic world of Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character walks into a Gap clothing store; his eyes are scanned and a 3D hologram of a saleswoman welcomes him by name and inquires about his satisfaction with his previous Gap purchases.  The movie is set in 2054, but this scene may not be too different from the world we live in today.

Retailers such as Nordstrom, Family Dollar, Benetton and Warby Parker are testing new technologies that track customers’ movements throughout their stores by following the wi-fi signals from customers’ smartphones.  As part of a movement to gather data about in-store shopping behavior, retailers are also using video surveillance technology to detect moods based on facial cues, catalogue how many minutes are spent in a particular aisle and how long a customer looks at merchandise before making a purchase.  Retailers who employ these technologies can use the information gathered to determine the ideal store layout or to provide targeted offers based on a customer profile.  So far, some consumer reactions have been less than positive.  However, this data gathering is no different from the digital equivalent: e-commerce sites that use cookies and other online tools to determine who consumers are and how they shop.  Nonetheless, it appears that, for many, transporting these technologies to brick-and-mortar stores is striking some shoppers as just too creepy.  In fact, Nordstrom ceased experimenting with this technology partly in response to customer complaints.

Those objecting may not realize that location-based targeting has been around for some time.  For example, GPS-based apps can determine whether you are in a particular store and immediately offer products and deals available at that retailer through your mobile device.  While this practice may have turned some consumers off initially, it is increasingly an accepted practice.  One notable difference, however, between app-based targeting and brick-and-mortar tracking is that those who download these theoretically apps expect location-based tracking, whereas those who walk into a store likely do not expect to be monitored and targeted.

The Way I See It