Retailers are watching you

FRESNO, Calif.

Most shoppers realize that security cameras in stores can track their every move. But did you also know those cameras can tell the business much more about you -- from age and gender to shopping preferences?

This is a subject retailers are hesitant to talk about. They know some shoppers might find it a little unsettling to know how much the store knows about them. But leaders in this trend called video analytics say this is absolutely the future of the retail industry.

A Tennessee company called Red Pepper is testing something called "Face Deals" -- using a facial recognition camera at the entrance of a business, then sending personalized deals and specials to your smart phone while you're in that business. And some new mannequins are watching you, watching them, through tiny cameras in their pupils. The $5,000 "I-See" uses facial recognition technology to gather information on customers... Based on the idea: the more retailers learn about their shoppers, the more they'll sell.

"I feel like there's more of a big brother attitude going on, which is a little unnerving," said Heather Sandstrom of Fresno.

"No privacy concerns for me. Not at all," said Sandi Ervine of Clovis.

Whether you're an honest consumer, just browsing, or a crook on a crime spree; you know that if you're in a store, chances are you're being recorded. Now, thanks to the emerging field of video analytics, those cameras are telling retailers more about you than ever before. "You can do things like assess somebody's gender, they can do age within a few years, they can do ethnicity, they can do biometrics. Things like what kind of mood you have, whether you're angry, happy or sad," said Paul Schottmiller, Cisco.

Schottmiller would not say who their clients are, but that most retailers aren't going that far. "They're a little bit leery. They wanna avoid what we call the creepy factor. So they're steering clear from identifying specific individuals."

Instead they're keeping track of how many customers are in the store and what they're doing to figure out staffing levels or move around displays for maximum traffic and exposure. "I think this is going to be the future of retail, it's going to alter what our expectations and what our experiences are," said Schottmiller.

A top-of-the-line video analytics system is still to costly for most small retailers, but Dina Thomas-Virrueta, the owner of Dekoposh in North Fresno, says the information they gather is much like what she already knows about her shoppers online, and could be invaluable. "If you had that information in your store, because as an owner, I'm not here all the time, I don't see everything, that would be great information to have."

Thomas-Virrueta says there's a delicate balance of knowing enough about your customers to give them what they want, but not invade their privacy. Since she started her children's clothing business three years ago., social media's helped her do that. "We're constantly listening and gathering that information to make sure that whatever we bring to them they're going to like and it's what they wanna wear."

Retailers also use rewards or loyalty cards, internet cookies, and smart phone apps like "Shopkick" -- and retailers these days know exactly what you're buying, and when and where you're going. That information can also be bought or sold.

"The amount of information you can get now down to neighborhoods, down to households is almost scary. You have to be really careful in how you use that information," said Jane Olvera-Quebe, President JP Marketing.

But even veteran marketers like Olvera-Quebe say collecting video is uncharted territory. "Definitely brings into question some sort of notification to the customer. I think is going to be important."

In Consumer Reports recent article "How Stores Are Spying On You," editors say problems can arise when there's no regulation over what's done with all this personal information. "Privacy is a big issue for consumers and it should be. We're worried about things like identity theft and our credit information being captured."

Rohlena says the White House has proposed a "Consumer Data Privacy Bill Of Rights," but until then, it's up to the shopper. That may include turning off your location services, your WiFi, or just not launching an app.

But opting out isn't always an option. For example, California state law requires stores like Best Buy and AT&T to collect customers' fingerprints when they're trading in phones or other electronics to deter criminals.

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