Retail Surveillance

I was reading the December 6, 2007 issue of the Economist, I couldn’t help but think of the irony involved as retailers attempt to create more personal environments for their customers. The article, Watching As You Shop, points out the very impersonal technologies being developed and utilized by retailers around the world to learn more about their customers in order to provide them with a better shopping experience.

Customer monitoring software can now measure how long queue lines are at registers, which parts of the store are the most traveled, and how long customers stay in one place. From Tesco in the UK to Walgreens, Best Buy, or Abercrombie andamp; Fitch in the US, the channel is irrelevant as retailers are employing the technology to create a point of difference, and for good reason.

In addition to a more pleasurable experience for customers, retailers are hoping to increase sales by learning what types of promotions are working and what areas are “hot spots” in the store for traffic flow. Combine increased sales with more efficient staffing and retailers are not only increasing sales, they are cutting costs.

The players specializing in customer monitoring software range from companies such as Irisys and Brickstream to a consortium including manufacturers such as Coke and Procter andamp; Gamble (P.R.I.S.M.) to university initiatives like VideoMining a spin-off from Penn State.

With this kind of focus already placed on how we shop, the technology to understand our actions in-store is only going to get more specific and actionable, begging the question: As consumers become aware of the technologies used to study their behavior, will they care?

There is a lesson to be learned here from American Express. When they openly discussed how they review cardholders’ spending patterns to tailor offers to them, they faced a significant consumer backlash. Even though they had been doing this for years, their cardholders felt betrayed. My guess is that we as a culture are getting more comfortable with this type of information being gathered about us and as long as we believe we are getting a better deal or experience we won’t mind too much.

[Image: Irisys]

– Contributed by Todd Cameron