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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?