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Mannequins Provide a Ground-Level View of Retail Security, Consumer Behavior

Posted By ESA Communications, Tuesday, December 4, 2012

According to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), there are an estimated 23 million shoplifters in the United States – one in 11 people. They steal an estimated $25 million worth of goods from retailers daily, which adds up to more than $13 billion a year.

Even though stores go to great lengths to prevent theft – including patrol officers, merchandise equipped with electronic or ink tags, cameras, mirrors and locked cases – more often than not, shoplifters get away with their crimes.

Bloomberg News recently reported about a new cutting-edge tool in the war on shoplifters, in the form of mannequins who effectively spy on shoppers. Security surveillance is nothing new – overhead cameras are discreet but ubiquitous in all kinds of commercial and retail settings – but this twist is raising some serious privacy concerns.

The video technology is now being deployed at eye level. A life-sized mannequin with a special camera embedded inside its head can now monitor customers as they move about the store. However, the emphasis is turning toward not only keeping an eye on potential criminals but also on potential customers.

The Eye-See mannequin – which is being marketed by the Italian company Almax with a price tag of more than $5,000 – uses special software to analyze the facial features of people passing through the store, as well as statistical and demographic information for the development of targeted marketing strategies. It can also provide other data, such as customer foot traffic at various times throughout the day.

Almax has been selling the mannequins for the past year in three European countries and the United States. The company says it is respecting customer privacy, since the device does not store images or record video. Still, some analysts are concerned about the potential for gathering customer data without consent.

That respect for privacy may get a little hazy. Bloomberg reports that the next generation of mannequins may include audio technology, with the ability to monitor (but not record) customer conversations about the mannequin’s attire or the surrounding environment. The company also plans to add screens next to the dummies that will display information to customers about products relevant to their profiles. The concept is similar to the use of "cookies” on websites, and the pop-up advertising that gets delivered as a result.

A number of retailers – including Nordstrom, Burberry and Benetton – aren’t buying into the concept, but Almax says it is beginning a push to establish the product in the United States. The company says that so far, at least one U.S. retailer (which it declined to identify) is using the technology.

The lessons for security integrators remain to be seen, but one thing is certain: In its capability to monitor the marketplace, surveillance technology is moving way beyond just stopping shoplifters. The question is, how far will it go?

Tags:  consumers  retail  video 

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