When shoppers enter a store, most probably assume they're being monitored through in-store cameras. But how many suspect they're being tracked through their smartphone?
Whether you suspect it or not, it's happening, as retailers like Family Dollar and Philz Coffee use Wi-Fi signals to gauge things like how many times you return to the store and how much time you're spending in each aisle.
And in addition, a lot of stores are using video cameras, which makes it seem like every move you make is being documented.
Nordstrom began tracking its customers using a program called Euclid last year, but after receiving a lot of complaints, the retail chain stopped and said it learned the tracking program wasn't right for the chain or its customers.
"We'd been testing Euclid since September and have said all along this was a test for us," said a company spokesman. "We had been discussing what made sense in terms of concluding the test; after 8 months we'd felt like we had learned a lot and determined that it was the right time to end it."
The way it is
By now, consumers should be pretty used to being tracked in some way or another, especially folks who shop online as online retailers have been documenting everything from the sites you visit to the types of products you buy. It's just the way things work nowadays.
Guido Jouret of Cisco's Emerging Technologies says consumers should get used to being tracked in physical stores, because physical stores are having a difficult time keeping up with online retailers when it comes to gauging customer interest.
"Brick-and-mortar stores have been disadvantaged compared with online retailers, which get people's digital crumbs," said Jouret.
Why should physical locations not "be able to tell if someone who didn't buy was put off by prices, or was just coming in from the cold?"
Adam Levin, the founder of Identity Theft 911 and Credit.com, says physical stores will continue to follow the ways of online retailers, by finding new ways to track all of your movements and purchases.
Tracking you in a brick-and-mortar could be even more invasive, because most use in-store cameras along with your smartphone to see what you're doing and buying.
Trading privacy for deals
And Levin says this will continue if consumers expect to get custom-made deals on a regular basis. It's a trade-off, he says. You'll have to hand in some of your privacy to get special offers.
"They are just incorporating what exists in the online world into the brick-and-mortar world," said Levin in an interview with Fox News. "My thing is you don't have cameras in the online world.
"This is the future. I think they will do facial recognition, retinal exams to do things to accommodate you. This is the price we are paying and privacy is eroding."
One retail worker, who goes by the name of Sigh Borg, said physical stores are doing way more than just tracking your smartphone.
"We can put an RFID tag in the lining of your new jacket," explained the worker in a posted comment about consumers being tracked. And we can correlate that with your credit card purchase. And we can correlate that with your surveillance photo taken as you leave the store. And we can watch you go to your car and take a picture of your license plate."
In addition, Sigh Borg notes, "We can scan all parked cars in your neighborhood. And if you post a picture from your new camera, we can exploit the geo-tagging information."
The comfort zone
Many experts believe a lot of people are fine with sacrificing some of their privacy when they shop online, because they associate using the Internet with sharing information.
But when it comes to being followed in physical stores, folks aren't as comfortable. But Linda Vertlieb, a Philadelphia blogger, said she's okay with being followed in physical stores, because that's the way things work today.
"I would just love it if a coupon pops up on my phone," said Vertlieb. "Stores are trying to sell, so that makes sense."
However, others consumers don't feel the same way and they refuse to walk into a store if they know they're being followed.
"I definitely don't like the idea of being tracked," said one consumer who posted a comment on MSN.com. "Fortunately, my cell phone is a cheap, lower-end, pre-paid phone, so it doesn't broadcast or receive Wi-Fi signals. Unfortunately, my iPod does. Now, if the store tracked me with my permission, for example, if it was a really large store that had an app with a store map that could track my position within the store and show me where various items were located, I would be okay with that.
"But, if I knew a store was tracking me without my permission, especially for the purpose of sending me targeted ads and the like, I'd be sure to turn off the Wi-Fi on my iPod," wrote the consumer.