They See You When You’re Shopping, They Know When You’re in Line to Pay

There’s something creepy about knowing that you can walk into a store and that this store can track everything you do including where you spend most of your time, and how long you wait in line just by latching onto a frequency on your cell phone. But would you be okay with that if the tradeoff is that the store uses that information to figure out what kind of deals you’d be into? Smithonsonian magazine examines this question:

The truth is, though, some shoppers don’t mind being tracked; in fact, they think it’s a great way to find out about bargains. More and more people are downloading store mobile apps that help them find what they’re looking for, but also can deliver on-phone coupons based on where a person is in the store.

That trend just got a big boost with the launch of a new Apple technology called iBeacon. These are sensors that communicate directly with iPhones when a shopper passes by, letting them know about deals or discounts.

Apple rolled out iBeacon in its own stores last week. Last month, Macy’s, working with a startup called Shopkick, began testing it in particular store locations in New York City and San Francisco. As soon as shoppers who have downloaded the Shopkick app walk into one of those Macy’s, they receive notifications on their iPhones about specials, and are reminded of products in which they have shown an interest during past visits.

The retail strategy seems to be catching on. Last summer, Timberland began testing a similar technology in its stores. More than 35 percent of the people who received coupons on their phones used them. With an email coupon campaign–one that’s considered successful–only about 15 percent cash them in.

I know that some establishments already track me because I have loyalty cards with them, and I feel okay with that (yes, it doesn’t hurt that they send me deals to consider). Pretty soon the Amazon drones will be watching our every movement anyway.

Photo: Dan Nguyen

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