The Legitimate Concern of Consumers & In-Store Tracking

As more retailers champion the benefits of mobile enterprise by targeting customers on the move, what price to pay for their privacy? E RADAR discusses some of the concerns raised by in-store tracking...   

When Nordstrom posted signs last fall telling customers the retailer was tracking them using their cell phones, shoppers were not too happy about the revelation, shares the New York Times.

The company quickly backpedaled on what many customers saw as an invasion of their privacy, but the word was out about customer tracking. Now stores are trying to discover a way to balance the need for good data with privacy, a problem as yet unresolved in retail, government or anywhere else.

Big Data

Most consumers know their online purchases are tracked extensively, and Internet users are aware of the targeted ads on Web pages. For example, if you search for faucets, you'll most likely discover faucet ads on Facebook or another site. Your search was acknowledged, and targeted ads appear on your online destinations accordingly.

Brick-and-mortar stores want to get in on this use of “Big Data,” the term now used to refer to the vast amount of information each person generates on a day-to-day basis. From wireless Internet provider reviews to the monthly purchase of protein powder on Amazon, Internet users are always producing data, data that online businesses use to their advantage. Retailers like Nordstrom, for example, may be late to the game, but they still want a piece of the action.


instore trackingCompanies partner with retailers for gathering information about customers that can be leveraged. In regards to Nordstrom, Euclid Analytics used customers’ Wi-Fi signal – produced by all smartphones – to track their movements through the store. Nordstrom planned on using this information to observe the habits of shoppers and use those habits to better cater to customer needs. If families had obvious trouble finding the children’s shoe section, for instance, perhaps the store needs a redesign.

Movement isn't the only thing being tracked. Video surveillance equipment for age, gender and even emotional recognition help companies learn more about their customers. Then companies can use location, and any other information they have, to send targeted ads, recommendations and even coupons, notes Fox News.


Newfound information about the collecting abilities of retailers can be unsettling, especially in light of the recent revelations about government surveillance programs. The only tenable solution appears to be legislation. In a recent MIT Technology Review piece, Ashkan Soltani discusses the only answer to the increased surveillance abilities of all parties. Technological limitations for preventing unwanted snooping are quickly disappearing. Laws pertaining to personal privacy are constantly evolving and need to be revised to address changing technologies.

Constant tracking and instant surveillance solutions may be a given in the future – from the local grocery store to the NSA. But protection against personal privacy continues to raise eyebrows and inflict controversy.