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Retailers Test Technology That Follows You While You Shop

Image via Shutterstock.
Image via Shutterstock.

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Retailers, not content to simply gather data about shoppers such as their names, ages, zip codes and credit history, are now expanding into straight-up stalking. As the WSJ illustrates terrifyingly, "In dozens of U.S. shopping centers, small gadgets—perhaps tucked near the queue for a photo with Santa—will keep tabs on shoppers' cellphones. Elsewhere, trackers sprinkled around the centers identify shoppers' movements, helping mall operators and retailers tally how long people wait in line and where they shop." Although the makers of these trackers encourage stores to post signage of their use, many do not comply with this request—understandably so, since the knowledge that their movements are being watched could unnerve shoppers.

According to research by a Washington, D.C.-based think tank concerned with privacy, more than 1,000 retailers are utilizing such trackers. Jewelry chain Alex & Ani was one willing to own up to its use of sensors, saying that the data collected helped them reorganize their store. The owner of a small retailer in San Francisco echoed this, stating that she moved a table of scarves from the front of her boutique to the rear after finding that shoppers lingered in that area the longest. And one mall that uses phone-tracking sensors urged food court restaurants to expand their hours for Black Friday after observing customers leaving last year in search of sustenance.

Macy's, Home Depot, Apple, Wal-Mart, Timberland and Kenneth Cole are all testing cell phone-based tracking and outreach programs; Nordstrom also piloted the technology, but abandoned it after outcry from its customers. If you're the paranoid type, consider powering down before you do your shopping.
· Tracking Technology Sheds Light on Shopper Habits [WSJ]
· Rank & Style Founders on How Math Finds the Best Products [Racked]
· The Surprising Secret to Sephora's Digital Success Is a Focus On Brick-And-Mortar [Racked]