In-Store Video Monitoring: How Much Data Are You Giving Away?

By: Joshua Peterson

All companies need to participate in market research. There are various reasons for using market research, whether for determining the viability of a new product, where to launch a brand, or determining how consumers use and respond to current products. With these different reasons for using market research, comes a wide array of methods. Traditional methods of collecting market data include such things as surveys and focus group testing. However, with advancements in technology, a new type of market research has begun to emerge in recent years.

Using Wi-Fi signals within brick and mortar locations, companies have begun to collect data from customers’ smartphones. By using the phone’s Wi-Fi searching function the stores are able to track the location of the phone and therefore the carrier. The idea behind this is the company is able to locate where a customer is within the store. This provides them with information about what products this individual is showing interest in. In conjunction with this new system, companies are also using improved video monitoring, traditionally used for surveillance, to further identify the consumer.

The combination of these two systems provides a great deal of consumer information. Stores are able to judge what product a customer is looking for and how they react to any variables that may exist, such as a sale price. This is a great improvement over traditional methods due to the non-response, interviewer bias or other variables. This method collects data during a time when consumers are in a “natural” environment.

However, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding this technology. Consumers are concerned about the idea that companies are collecting data without their knowledge. There is also concern of what information is actually being collected. Retailers make the claim that they are simply using methods that consumers are already using in internet-based stores. Online stores, such as Amazon, use cookies, which track information such as what items are being viewed and how a person searches online.

However, there are some major differences in these two techniques. First, cookies only store data that provide information to sites regarding what consumers are looking for. These in-store monitoring systems collect visual information, such as facial reactions as well as location data. Another difference is the ability to opt out of these systems. Cookies can easily be disabled or enabled. If cookies are disabled, these online retailers are no longer able to see this search data. For in-store monitoring, the only solution appears to be leaving your phone behind or turning it off. These are much greater inconveniences than disabling cookies. In addition, the technology used at these stores is not actually limited to within the store environment. A person’s smartphone can be picked up just by walking past a store that has these systems. This creates an environment that doesn’t even give the person an opt out option of not entering these locations.

Overall, this type of market research appears to be a great concept for retailers, but the transparency to consumers must be taken into consideration.


7 thoughts on “In-Store Video Monitoring: How Much Data Are You Giving Away?

  1. Kendra Van Pelt March 29, 2015 / 6:13 pm

    Within the past decade, marketers have been given the ability to employ more aggressive and invasive marketing techniques due to technological advances that have aided them with new opportunities and strategies. Our generation has grown up with “cookies” – the online tracking, visiting a website once and it’s advertisements following you around on the rest of your web search trail, etc. However, in-store monitoring is ramping it up. Should a company be legally allowed to track your phone via GPS to locate where you are within their store? Or, via in store surveillance, now by able to essentially monitor to see what products you are looking out, your facial expressions, and what you yourself look like? This is probably one of the more invasive techniques that marketers have been utilizing in order to find data on their consumers. As this trend grows and more people are discovering the ins-and-outs of in-store video monitoring, I think the potential for many legal suits may arise; the question of what is constitutionally right and wrong. Should a company be allowed to track you? All this technology is still very new in relative terms; the smartphone has only been out for about decade. Only as the technology advances more has it come into question whether there should be certain set restrictions or not. As time passes, I believe stricter restrictions could be set restraining companies and cell phone providers to access as much data as they want; however, it will be very dependent on how knowledgeable consumers become of the current practices within the next few years.


  2. Skye Stewart March 30, 2015 / 4:30 pm

    I agree that this type of market research is new and improved, as well as creative, but at the same time, it is also kind of creepy. Although I would hope that stores aren’t just watching me on video walk around the store, the concept is hard to get used to. I think it would feel too much like someone is always watching me, no matter what I am shopping for. They should ask customers if they would like to participate in their research, and further explain what exactly it is they are doing. At the same time, I don’t think I would really care if they are watching me on camera and looking at what I’m buying. Stores are for everyone, and everyone could be getting something different. This type of market research might be too broad, as well. People go into stores for different products. For example, many people go to WalMart for groceries, but there are also clothes and furniture there. Just because you are buying a table one time at WalMart, doesn’t mean you are going to buy a table at WalMart every single time you go in. They might have to learn how to eliminate certain types of information from this type of market research.


  3. Domenica Fuller April 10, 2015 / 8:04 pm

    This type of market research is definitely invasive. In my opinion, cellphones were created for convenience purposes and while they have evolved into mini computers I do not feel comfortable with stores or, anyone really, tapping into my phone and looking at my searches because I am not sure what information they are using, nor what it is being used for. Customers should be able to opt-out of it by a pop-up that shows up on their smart phones or something similar because it would be an inconvenience to leave my phone at home or shut it off to avoid stores using my information. To me that would defeat the purpose of owning or carrying a cellphone in the first place.


  4. Brian Vatkevich April 28, 2015 / 8:55 pm

    Phones were created to make calls, and now they are continuing to progress further and further away from this. as people continue to use their phones for more and more personal deals, they aren’t are that this data is being harvested by companies to extract the most of each person. There should be an opt in or out option available in similar to computer software or location sharing applications.


  5. Michael Carli May 7, 2015 / 12:32 am

    Josh, that’s a good point that online companies are already using cookies to track your data and use it against you for their advertising. I get quite annoyed when it’s blatantly obvious that websites are advertising the dress shoes or other products that I was just looking at. I can only imagine how more creepy it will feel if I’m in a brick and mortar store and the company pushes out an advertisement of a product that I was just holding in my hands.


  6. Nick Pappalardo May 12, 2015 / 7:04 pm

    I feel like most of this is useless data anyways. What use does a the company possibly have to know the number of people that walk by the store? They may be taking this data without your knowledge but how much of it is actually useful to them?


  7. Megan Lac April 19, 2016 / 11:52 pm

    I think the difference between online and in-store monitoring is that online people are aware that is happens are “okay” with the idea of tracking cookies on our computers. However, to me, it almost seems like an invasion of privacy for companies to track us in store. I know my phone goes on the internet and therefore has cookies such as my computer, but to me it feels different. Companies should have to draw the line somewhere.


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