QR Codes, Big Data and Consumer Backlash
There is nowhere to hide. Cameras are everywhere and they are focused on you. As you shop for tighty whities, run that red light, or take out some cash at the ATM, you are being watched. And, yes, Google Earth is tracking your home at this very moment. But you’d be surprised at who else is monitoring your movements–and how.
Admittedly, we have become accustomed to anti-theft surveillance equipment keeping tabs on us in retail outlets. After all, shoplifting impacts all of us in the form of higher prices, so it’s in our best interests to do whatever it takes to catch thieves in action. But, what if stores were tracking your movements within their premises for a different reason–one that is much more self-serving? One that is aimed, in fact, at motivating shoppers–including yourself–to spend more? There is no doubt that retailers are becoming increasingly dependent on gathering data to better understand consumers.
The truth is that many brick and mortar stores do exactly that–track their customers to find out how long they spend in their store, what departments they visit, and which displays seem to hold their interest. How do they do this? Simple. They follow the WiFi signal from your cell phone.
Benefits to the Retailer.
WiFi Analytics, a service offered by firms such as California-based Euclid, enables retailers to glean a wealth of information. Did a customer walk into the store without hesitation or did they appear to be drawn in by the window display? Did they walk directly to one department and make their purchase or did they go to several locations? How much traffic walked past the store, but failed to enter? All of these statistics are invaluable to retailers, enabling them to make better decisions about inventory, displays, and floor plans–affording them the chance to become more competitive and improve their bottom lines.
If you’d like to hear more about the benefits of WiFi Analytics and other methods of collecting Big Data, check out How to Unlock Big Data’s Potential.
WiFi Analytics has not been well-received by privacy advocates. In fact, in May 2013, when Nordstrom posted a sign notifying their clientele that they were being monitored in this way, the retailer found itself bombarded by complaints–both in person and through social media.
Euclid provides their users with a set of guidelines, including how to make customers aware of the use of WiFi monitoring by posting signage. They also advise letting shoppers know how to opt out of the program.
Yes, unlike the traffic cameras that capture your “lead footed” moments on tape, you can avoid being followed as you engage in a little retail therapy. The most obvious way, of course, is to turn off your phone completely. But, if you’re waiting for an all important text from your honey–a shopping list, perhaps–you won’t want to be unreachable. Thankfully, you have an alternative.
QR Code to the Rescue
This is where the QR Code steps in and saves the day. Included on the signage posted by retailers to inform you of their monitoring system, you will also find a QR Code. Simply scan it using your mobile device, and you will no longer be tracked.
Yes, ironic as it may be, the little QR Code–a piece of 2D graphics that has become a go-to tool for aggressive marketing campaigns everywhere–is actually the key to avoiding participating in this marketing research scheme. Who would have guessed?
If you value your privacy, keep your eyes peeled the next time you go shopping. Your favorite retailers may be engaging in WiFi Analytics and you may just be their favorite source of information.
How do you feel about WiFi Analytics? Why?
Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer and avid blogger whose cell phone is rarely switched on–not because she is protective of her privacy, but because she is just very forgetful. And not too bright. You can follow her neurotic and OCD ramblings at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.