Big Brother May Be Watching You Eat, Shop and Socialize for Marketing Purposes Only

    A recent article in the Wall Street Journal online presented an interesting new use for security cameras. It seems that some smaller store owners are using footage from their in-store cameras to track customers’ traffic flow as well as their demographics.

    It’s an interesting trend for gathering marketing data. Store managers can see where customers linger in the aisles. Do they buy what they check out on aisle five? Are impediments blocking the flow of walking traffic through the store? What age groups come in during certain times of the day?

     Even more interesting are the cloud-based services that have launched to offer store analytics just for this purpose. Owners can even watch their store remotely and record data or use what they see to rearrange employee hours for peak sales times.

    Analytics services from companies such as Prism, SceneTap, and RetailNext cost from $99 per month up to $999, so you can find systems to fit many budgets and work with existing security cameras. RetailNext touts customers such as:

    • Ulta Cosmetics
    • Family Dollar
    • American Apparel
    • Bloomingdales
    • Verizon

    According to information on its site, RetailNext…

    … Gives brick-and-mortar retailers concrete information about what shoppers do inside their stores and how they respond to decisions these retailers make. Merchants can use this information to increase sales, cut theft, reduce unnecessary costs, and improve the overall customer experience—all to the benefit of the bottom line.

    Of course, the concern on everyone’s mind is privacy:

    How will customers react to being scrutinized and tallied by video cameras? Prism, RetailNext, and SceneTap all say the systems collect no identity-specific data, such as names, just aggregate numbers. ‘We don’t even give them a report that says at 8:15 a 27-year-old female walked in,’ says Cole Harper, co-founder of SceneTap. ‘We’ll say from 8 to 8:30, 30% of your flow was male, 70% was female, and the average age was 26.1. We drive home this message over and over.’

    Even so, it seems like Big Brother may be watching you shop, eat and socialize without you even knowing it. Truly a marketing boon for the owner, but a bit of a privacy invasion for the customers.

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