Shopper Privacy Trumps In-store Marketing

Articles
February 17, 2010

Shopper Privacy Trumps In-store Marketing

A new technology that could earn retailers in-store marketing dollars will soon present them with a quandary – chase the dollars, or risk the wrath of consumers who sense an intrusion on their privacy.

A new technology that could earn retailers in-store marketing dollars will soon present them with a quandary – chase the dollars, or risk the wrath of consumers who sense an intrusion on their privacy.

The technology in question “looks at distinguishing points of the face, from the shape of the ears and eyes to hair color, to determine the approximate age” of shoppers, within a ten-year range, who walk by particular in-store digital screens equipped with embedded cameras, described The Wall Street Journal.

As brand marketers move away from conventional media and toward retail selling venues to influence shoppers to buy particular items, these flat-panel monitors have the ability to show age-appropriate ads and messages. A Frost & Sullivan analyst told WSJ that the in-store advertising market exceeds $1 billion in value today, and is due to grow by 15% in 2010 and 20% in 2011.

As many food stores scratch to survive in the recession—with shoppers trading down and comp-sales declines a fairly common occurrence—we understand they’d be tempted to get their share of this new revenue stream. Nonetheless, SupermarketGuru.com urges the highest levels of sensitivity to avoid alienating shoppers who value their privacy and might just be steamed enough to shop elsewhere if they begin to feel uncomfortable having their faces scanned without giving permission.

To us, it doesn’t matter that the spokesman for technology provider NEC Electronics says the software discards the footage and singles out no one as it seeks demographics. It also doesn’t matter that security cameras are already taping these same shoppers who might be irked by this technology. There’s a distinction in the purpose: security procedures protect assets and help keep shoppers safe, while in-store marketing cameras attempt to sell people more products. One is understood and generally accepted; the other is opportunistic.

The moment a store blatantly positions itself as caring more about its profit motives than the needs of its customers, it risks losing them. There’s an art to the sale, and hidden cameras that prompt marketing messages aren’t necessarily part of the success palate.