For years stores have been tracking consumers as they move through the aisles. Shopper never seemed to notice or care. More recently though, as stores have begun tracking shoppers through their mobile phones, consumers (and the FTC) have been paying attention-and they don’t like it. In fact, a recent Opinion Lab survey of 1,000 consumers showed that, 77% of shoppers do not want stores to track their movements via smartphone and 43% of shoppers are less likely to shop at a favorite retailer if the brand implements a tracking program.
Why do consumers feel that mobile tracking is somehow more offensive than video surveillance or on line tracking? The first issue is that because it is linked to our phone, and because we like to have our phones with us at all times (according to International Data Corporation, 79% of Americans have their smartphone on or near them for all but two hours of the day) we have no ability to choose privacy without giving up connectivity. In addition, the combination of surveillance coupled with geolocation feels particularly invasive. We don’t seem to mind (or we have succumbed to) being stalked and tracked through cyberspace but there is still resistance to offline tracking.
What consumers don’t quite seem to understand, is that at least for now, stores that are using geolocation are not identifying particular consumers. So at least for now, in-store tracking is no more invasive than old-fashioned video surveillance and in fact, is probably less invasive because there is no visual attached to the data. Knowing this, and assuming that in-store tracking remains limited to those parameters, with enough information, will consumers be willing to accept in-store tracking?
The truth is, that brick and mortar stores are at a tremendous disadvantage in comparison to online outlets and the inability to track consumers is one of the reasons. Online stores know when their customers like to shop. They know which departments are most popular. They know which merchandise receives a second look. All of this information enables them to streamline their business to the needs and desires of the consumer. They can offer targeted incentives and ads and in the end, offer better cost savings. Right now, brick and mortar stores are not able to offer those advantages and the cost could be significant. In store tracking could help stores hire staff at the times they are busy and staff leanly during slow times. They could learn more about shopper preferences enabling them to better manage merchandise, store layouts and promotions. All of these elements are critical elements for effective competition with online retailers.
Most consumers want brick and mortar stores to survive. Many would also give up a little privacy for lower prices, lower lines, to have access to coupons or to more efficiently find what they are looking for. What might lower resistance to in-store tracking the most? A direct benefit to consumers. According to an opinion lab poll, 61% of consumers might be more open to tracking if they were compensated for their participation and 53% would be motivated by free products. If stores are able to communicate an upside to tracking while ensuring they don’t overstep, it could be that consumers and the FTC will ultimately find that this loss of privacy is worth the price.