Stores Are Watching You, Studying Patterns


UPDATED: Wednesday November 6, 2013 11:15 AM

Your favorite store may be spying on you while you shop.

The cameras in the ceilings of the stores are not just for catching shoplifters. They're used to collect data.

Stores are using technology that they say helps them provide a better shopping experience.

It's called shopper analytics.  

It’s not just the cameras in the ceiling; some stores collect their data from your cell phone instead, while you stroll through the store.

At Cache, it's all about personal service with an eye on the sale made possible by this eye in the sky.

That camera above the store entrance collects data for California's RetailNext, one of many companies specializing in what's called in-store analytics.

Here's how one of their executives described it to Consumer  10 during a Skype interview.

"In-store analytics is a technology used by retailers to understand what's happening in their stores,” said Maria Fernandez, RetailNext.

Cameras study shoppers by gender to see what they do inside the stores, how long they're there and how many make a purchase.

They can determine where shoppers look and where they do not.

Managers can get a heat map identifying store hot spots, dead areas and bottlenecks. Merchants then take that info and use it to increase sales, cut thefts, and adjust work schedules which should ultimately improve your shopping experience.

"It's an amazing tool,” said Silvia Young, who’s been in retail for 20 years.  She’s the manager at the Cache store at the Easton Town Center. She has seen the benefits of the technology.
A recent report showed that between 5 and 6 p.m. one evening, there were seven shoppers and 71 percent of them spent money.  

“Yes, but they didn't spend as much.  That means probably that I didn't have enough helpers,” said Young.

Each day, she gets a report from the previous day and can use them to make changes in everything from where to place displays, to what to display, to how many employees to bring in.

"By looking at last week's patterns, I noticed that Mondays tend to be a little bit busy so I schedule one more person so that gives the customer the whole hospitality environment,” explained Young.

Consumer 10 showed the video of the technology to some shoppers to get their reaction to this kind of data gathering.

"That doesn't bother me - doesn't bother me at all,” said one shopper.

Some stores track your smartphones or tablets while you shop, locking in to the ping your device emits while it's searching for Wi-Fi. That data can help them know if you've shopped there before, how often, and how long it's been since your last visit.

Some customers think that goes too far.

"I don't think I would like that.  That's getting too personal,” said another customer.

RetailNext insists everything is automated and that there is no people watching.

"And all the information we provide to retailers is anonymous and aggregated.  They are not interested in what you as a shopper are doing, what they're interested in is the trends.  It's about the changes in patterns that they see,” said Fernandez.

Shoppers can't do anything to avoid the cameras in stores.

But if you're bothered by smartphone tracking you can prevent it by turning off your Wi-Fi when you shop.

Some analytics companies allow you to opt out of tracking, but that requires you to visit each company's website.

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