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Friday, May 28, 2010

They're Watching You

Whenever you're shopping at a major retail store, chances are someone is watching your every move... and not just on their security cameras.

I recently read an article in The Economist which explained how several of the larger retailers the likes of Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Abercrombie & Fitch, Price Chopper and Toys "R" Us to name just a few, are using elaborate electronic monitoring devices to track and influence the buying behaviors of their customers.

A relatively simple example would be Tesco who, through sensors at the doors, track the volume of people entering and leaving their stores with the goal of managing the opening of additional tills to reduce wait times - a good thing.

Higher up the food chain (so to speak) others retailers are using multi-lens video camera's and high tech audio recording devices to track traffic patterns, observe shopping behaviors, even listen in on their customers. Some go as far as to categorize or segment customers into stereotypical groups based on these observations.

What they do with all this information varies, but you can bet it won't be long before you'll have walk through a maze of shelves and displays to the very far corners of the store to get any of the things you really need, not just the bread and the milk.

Privacy concerns aside, if all of this 'retail surveillance' were to result in a better customer experience (as would appear to be the intent in the case of Tesco's) I'd be all for it. I suspect however, that in the majority of cases, the objective is about getting people to buy more stuff rather than to improve the customer journey.

Personally, I'm not convinced this is the best use of all this expensive equipment. Perhaps if they turned the cameras on themselves for a while, many retailers would learn something about why so many of their customers are getting fed up and choosing to shop elsewhere, or online.

I'd love to hear your views on this emerging practice, but whatever they might be, next time you get an itch while out shopping, keep in mind - big brother is watching.

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