Big Brother is alive and well and watching you shop.
According to a report in Hong Kong’s Sunday Morning Post, a controversial new surveillance system has been rolled out in that city that seeks to understand precisely what you’re shopping for, when you’re shopping for it and how you feel about the whole experience.
This state-of-the-art analytics system employs heat-sensitive cameras to secretly monitor the behaviour of shoppers as they move around a store.
The cameras’ multiple lenses can distinguish men from women and adults from children and note how long a customer lingers in a particular department or in front of a specific product. In this way, the system — developed by RetailNext, a retail analytics firm from California — can identify the most heavily trafficked areas of a retail space and communicate this information by way of a blotchy, colourful heat map.
The video footage the system collects is promptly digitized and the data that can be sliced from its belly can be applied to a range of customer-facing applications, including marketing pitches, store layout design and retail fixture selections. Ideally, this detailed understanding of how customers spend time in their store can inform managers on how to rearrange fixtures and fittings to entice them customers to spend more.
Not surprisingly, the new technology has been called “invasive” by detractors who balk at the privacy parameters they claim it violates. Customers, they argue, cannot opt out and they have no say in how their data are subsequently used.
Tim Callan, RetailNext’s chief marketing officer, recently defended his system with the media, claiming it actually offers shoppers more privacy than conventional in-store surveillance cameras because their faces are not identified.