While online retailers like Amazon can collect and analyze an incredible amount of behavioral data via accounts, cookies, page-views and other web technologies, real world stores aren't so lucky. If you run in, pay cash, and run out, they're pretty much "blind". That is, until American fashion retailer, Nordstrom, decided to use our phones and their Wi-Fi signals to try and get in on the customer analytics game. Stephanie Clifford and Quentin Hardy writing for the New York Time:
Nordstrom’s experiment is part of a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behavior and moods, using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in the candy aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it.
And they're by no means alone. Wi-Fi and video are new tools, but customer insight analytics has been going on for years. As long as they have a single unique identifier - a loyalty card number, email address, phone number - they can perform an incredible amount of analytics on our buying patterns. (That's why they're always asking for your contact info or trying to get you to sign up for their card.)
Actually monitoring our movements via video and Wi-Fi signal draws a more detailed, more accurate, more visual map of how we walk through stores and what gets our attention, but market basket analysis has been used to figure out the cheapest coupons that'll appeal to us and when, the best way to group products and offer sales, and what to stock up on and what to dump from the shelves. (And this information is sold back to vendors, creating a lucrative side business for retailers and analytics firms both.)
Theoretically, customers benefit through more timely and appropriate coupons, better store organization, and products that are more in line with what they want to buy. (Also, TV show lawyers could get their clients off because, hey, their phones were across town at the time...)
But, using Wi-Fi to actually track us moving through stores sets off all sorts of privacy alarm bells. When Nordstrom posted a notice about it, they received complaints and they ended the practice.
So here's the question: Do you care if a store uses your phone to track you while you shop? Do you use store cards, and/or give stores your email address or phone number now? Is live surveillance creepier than periodic check-pointing?