Risks of treating shoppers as lab rats

May 17, 2012

Shoppers feel strongly about in-store cameras that follow the way they move about the store and respond to marketing stimuli, shows our exclusive poll.

Striving to maximize every buying influence in-store—promotions, displays, signs, scents, staff help and more—retailers keep a close eye on the physical movements (even eye movements) and reactions of shoppers. They use signs with embedded cameras that can determine gender and approximate age, and help stores target their efforts to individual customers—all in the quest for bigger baskets.

Shoppers are used to the idea of cameras in and around stores as one way to deter shoplifters. But if shoppers knew that cameras they don’t see watch them for marketing purposes, and that retailers are studying their every move, would they mind? Would they want stores to disclose they do this? Would they feel this invades their privacy? Would they expect a benefit in exchange for being a subject?  The Lempert Report asked these questions and more in an exclusive Quick Poll.

Here’s what adults across America told us:

  • 40% of survey respondents were “not at all” aware of these marketing tactics. Another 45% were “somewhat” aware and just 15% “extremely” aware.
  • If they knew their primary supermarket did this, it would affect how many people continue to shop there. Although almost six in ten (58%) would “shop there the same amount,” a significant 28% would “warn others about it,” 19% would “complain about it” and 19% would “shop there only if necessary.” Another 12% would “switch stores” and 10% would “shop there less.” They were able to give multiple answers on this question, so these numbers aren’t additive.
  • Three-quarters of consumers (72%) would expect benefits from their store. Which ones? Able to give multiple answers here too, 49% said “more targeted offers that benefit me,” 48% said “lower prices or sharper promotions,” and 42% said “more assortments geared to me.” Another 40% said “fewer out-of-stocks” and 35% said “a more exciting store because of what they learn.”
  • A large majority (73%) said they would want their primary supermarket to tell them, and a majority (55%) feel these practices invade their privacy. They feel so strongly that 60% of respondents favor legislative safeguards on the use of this information.

Based on these survey findings, retailers risk consumer pushback in an area many feel is sensitive.