Retailers Resort To Spy Gear To Serve You Better


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Retailers are using technology used in espionage efforts to remain relevant in today’s online shopping world. Throughout Europe and the U.S., brick and mortar retailers are employing high-tech spy techniques to obtain information about a shopper’s in-store experience—and using it to improve their Customer Experience.

Spy Tech and the Customer Experience

According to the Telegraph, Retailers are using installed technology to learn more about customers’ moment-to-moment experience. It can be motion detection sensors, software, thermal imaging cameras, or cameras hidden on a mannequin. Whatever technology the retailer uses, it is invisible to customers. The technology can read facial expressions, monitor heart rate changes (which could mean there is an emotional response to a stimuli), and detect pupil dilation (which could mean there is interest or, er, sexual stimulation). These physical reactions can be from any number of stimuli, but some examples relevant to the retail experience would be frustration about the inability to find what he or she needs, or feeling deep desire to buy a product or anxiety about the buying decision.

Once the technology senses there is a response, it cues the employee to step in. The idea is that the shop worker can anticipate the customer’s needs and provide better service at that moment. It works, too. One French bookseller reported a 10% increase in sales after using the technology. Another benefit retailers discovered was that the technology was effective in thwarting thieves as well.

Using technology to read emotional responses is also finding application in market research. In exchange for a discount, some customers wear a device that reads their skin’s moisture and resistance, indicators of stimulation and excitement. Market researchers hope that using this kind of technology will replace focus groups and shopper interviews that can be time consuming and ineffectual.

Airlines Are Using Spy Tech, Too

An Albuquerque news outlet reported that JetBlue is using facial recognition technology when boarding passengers, eliminating the boarding pass and passport scrutiny usually experienced at this point in the boarding process. It is faster and less of a hassle for travelers, which improves the experience for everyone involved. The executive vice president of JetBlue says she thinks your face could replace the passport as your identification for travel. Delta will follow suit soon as well at luggage check-ins in Minneapolis. They call it another step to giving customers what they want.

Using facial recognition software to identify passengers will improve efficiency in the check in process and will free up gate agents to help passengers that need additional assistance. Who can argue that either of these is a bad thing for the Customer Experience at the airport?

Of course, this will never work if you have to identify someone out of the EMF:

Rental Bikes Are Spying on Users Also

According to the Belfast Telegraph, Belfast Bikes, a bike rental company in Northern Ireland, will use tracking devices on 200 of their bikes to monitor how and where people ride the bikes. They will use the information to improve the security of the bikes, which have suffered much vandalism in the past year. Also, the information gathered will improve the Customer Experience from an analysis of the routes and terrain taken with the bikes.

Is Spying Enough?

In these examples, I see plenty of benefits to the Customer Experience. The high-tech, spy-gear approach has many pros to add to the column. As my co-author Professor Ryan Hamilton and I wrote about in our latest book, The Intuitive Customer, people make emotional buying decisions all the time. Anticipating a customer’s’ needs by understanding what they are thinking is one of the seven imperatives we share that are designed to take your Customer Experience to the next level. Knowing more about how customers are feeling when making a buying decision in your shop is an excellent way to improve their Customer Experience in your favor.

Carnival Cruise Lines uses this type of “spy” technology also. Passengers wear an Ocean Medallion technology, which is a token they wear on their person that interacts with sensors all over the ship that record what the passenger is doing. Then, Carnival will use the data collected about that passenger’s personal experience to suggest complementary activities he or she might like next. The token can also trigger turning on lights or adjusting the temperature of a room to accommodate the passenger.

While it does remind one of a benevolent version of 1984’s Big Brother, the technology employed produces data that allows the cruise line to be proactive in providing an excellent Customer Experience for its passengers. Think of it as a less sinister version of Minority Report’s futuristic personalized marketing applications:

But reading facial expressions, tracking biking routes, and turning on the lights isn’t enough to create an excellent Customer Experience. While innovative and enlightening, these tactics do not provide a comprehensive Customer Experience. In our global Customer Experience consultancy, we suggest attending to the Emotional Signature®,which measures the level of their emotional engagement customers have with you. This effort requires understanding how emotions play a part in all the moments a customer has with your organization—and how you can create a deliberate emotional response that makes customers want to come back for more.

So, no, using spy gear to ascertain emotional responses to your retail Customer Experience will not keep a retailer relevant in an increasingly online shopping world. But it will help retailers exploit their strength, which is a genuine human interaction to serve a customer’s needs. By coupling the information your spy gear gathers with informed and deliberate human interaction during the Customer Experience is what it takes to move your Customer Experience to the next level.

What do you think? Have retailers crossed a line by spying on customer or are they just stepping up their game? I’d love to hear your argument in the comments below.

To find out more about these fascinating concepts for your business read our new book, The Intuitive Customer: 7 Imperatives for moving your Customer Experience to the next level.


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