Stores turn to Wi-Fi to track shoppers' comings and goings

More brick-and-mortar retailers are tracking shoppers who come into their stores by using Wi-Fi signals to figure out how they shop.

From the "just a little creepy" department: Brick-and-mortar stores are experimenting with Wi-Fi and advanced video surveillance to track customers as they shop.

The New York Times brings word of the trend, noting that Family Dollar, Cabela's, Benetton, and Warby Parker are among the stores that are testing these technologies. Nordstrom also tried tracking users via their Wi-Fi signals, and even posted signs alerting customers to the practice, but the store abandoned the effort in May after customers complained.

Stores aren't able to glean personal information this way, but with Wi-Fi tracking services such as RetailNext, they can figure out how long shoppers stay, where they tend to look around, and whether they end up going to the register. Because smartphones are constantly looking for Wi-Fi signals, stores can detect the location of those phones within a 10-foot radius, even if the shopper isn't connected to the network, the Times reports.

Slightly more unnerving is the use of advanced video technologies to learn even more about shoppers as they browse. The Times describes a $1500 stereoscopic camera from Brickstream that can separate adults from children, and technology from Realeyes that can detect people's emotions. Better cameras and image processing have made these technologies possible.

Creepy as it seems, shoppers should realize that these forms of tracking aren't much different than the tracking cookies that online retailers use to follow people around the Web. If anything, tracking cookies are even more intrusive, because they are able to put together broader profiles of users as they use the Internet and tie those profiles to a single unique identifier.

And while the overall idea of being followed is unnerving, the goal of merchants, both online and offline, is to provide a better shopping experience. Just as tracking cookies aim to serve more accurate advertisements, retailers hope to figure out how people shop, and adjust their stores accordingly.

To what extent that actually helps sell more products is another question, one that's unaddressed by the Times story. But as one commenter points out, the big advantage brick-and-mortar stores have is the ability to make personal connections with customers. It'd be a shame to squander that advantage in pursuit of making the real world more like the online one.

Follow @TechHive on Twitter today.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Wi-Finew york timesNordstromNetworkingsecuritywirelessshoppingWLANs / Wi-Fiprivacy

More about Nordstrom

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jared Newman

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place