“John Anderton. You could use a Guinness right about now”

Uncategorized Posted Feb 6, 2013 by Bryan Grillo

Shortly after graduating from college, I worked in the Men’s Department of a now defunct retail chain. As Sales Associates, we were trained to thank shoppers by name when they paid for their purchases. So naturally, when a customer paid with a credit card, we made sure to read the name on the card so that we could “personalize” the transaction.

One day, I noticed a customer’s surname matched that of a former classmate. I asked the shopper if they were related and she responded in the affirmative, but that was the extent of our conversation. I was a bit surprised that she didn’t engage further in discussion – especially since this classmate’s brother and my brother also went to school together. After sharing my experience with family, I’ll never forget what my mother said: some people prefer to shop anonymously.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming harder to accomplish this feat in today’s data-driven world. A Monday piece on Marketplace by Stacey Vanek Smith detailed that customer tracking isn’t just occurring online, it’s happening offline too – via new in-store “smart” cameras.

From NRF Annual 2013, Vanek Smith reported that the technology can do “partial facial recognition” and sort shoppers by age and gender. It can also track customer movements and dwell time, or the amount of time spent in a particular area of a store. And what’s notable – or creepy, depending on your perspective – is that one company is partnering with cell phone companies to – without associating a person with a cell phone number – exchange information and create “profile groups.”

Vanek Smith laughed when the new camera categorized her gender incorrectly. But like any technology, it’s only the beginning, and it’s only going to get better.

A few weeks back, my colleague Shannon similarly blogged about the intersection of retail with technology to better enhance the consumer experience. And as I listened to Marketplace the other night, like her, I couldn’t help but think of that famous scene from Minority Report.

Here it is again.