Like online stores, retail stores look to track you while shopping

Shopper tracking

You know those ads on the sides of some webpages that seem to know everything you’ve shopped for, like, ever?

This very well may be the kind of shopping experience retailers like Nordstrom, American Apparel and other brick-and-mortar stores have in mind for the future. Each of these companies has recently experimented with indoor customer tracking, as reported by the MIT Technology Review. Retailers not only want to track sales numbers and trends, but also, similar to sites like Amazon and Google, take in statistics showing what customers are “viewing” or how much time is spent in each section of the store.

With new indoor location tracking technology, brick and mortar retailers would be able to intelligently send advertisements and deals to specific shoppers, based on past preferences. So pretty soon, if you’re in the electronics section of a store, you might receive a notification on your iPhone directing you to all the televisions on sale. Or perhaps you’re grabbing a frozen pizza at the grocery store when all of the sudden you receive a coupon notification for chicken wings (Mmmm).

Different trials involving camera tracking, magnetic field measurements and sound wave tracking have been rolled out to record customers’ in-store behavior, but the most promising — and most interactive — method of tracking shoppers will likely prove to be through the phones in their pockets. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals from these devices can provide tracking information with up to about 3 yards of accuracy. Some stores have even begun to store each smartphone's unique identifier number, called a MAC address, to gain long-term information on frequent shoppers, according to MIT.


Nordstrom’s trial Wi-Fi in-store tracking program landed the company some bad press when customers complained of an invasion of privacy. Signs posted at the entrances of 17 of its locations explained that the stores were “gathering publicly-broadcasted information” from smartphones and other Wi-Fi enabled devices in and around the store. After eight months of testing the program, Nordstrom decided to end it in May.

In another customer information tracing method that’s well on its way, British grocery store chain Tesco recently announced it will be installing “face scanning” advertisement screens in 450 of its gas stations. The technology detects the gender and age category of the customer approaching the register, then displays the appropriate ad. The screen doesn’t record eyes or faces, but will keep a tally of demographics and the amount of time each customer spends looking at the ad.

Now, quick: Someone get started on an Adblock for real life.