Shoppers saying no to in-store snooping

Apr 22, 2014

According to a recent survey from OpinionLab, eight out of 10 shoppers do not want stores to track their movements via smartphone. Only 12 percent of respondents stated that shoppers should be automatically tracked.

When asked about the best way for retailers to approach in-store tracking, 64 percent said that the best approach is opt in. At the same time, however, about the same percentage — 63 percent — report that they would not opt in to be tracked even at their favorite retail stores.

The survey of 1,042 consumers, conducted in March 2014, also found:

  • Eighty-eight percent of those who disapprove of tracking remain unswayed by retailers’ promises to use tracking data to improve the customer experience;
  • The biggest concerns are that retailers will not keep the data secure (68.5 percent); tracking feels like spying (67 percent); and retailers will use the data exclusively to their own benefit (60.5 percent);
  • Eighty-one percent do not trust retailers to keep data private and secure. Local stores were trusted with data the most, although at only 15 percent. Ten percent trusted upscale brands and four percent mass chains;
  • Millennials had similar reservations as other generations about in-store tracking and concerns around retail’s ability to keep their data private and secure;
  • Forty-four percent indicated a tracking program would make them less likely to shop with the brand;
  • Across the board, consumers expect to be directly compensated for their participation, either by receiving cost saving and price discounts (61 percent) or by getting free products (53 percent).

In a column last week for Advertising Age, Jonathan Levitt, CMO of OpinionLab, noted that retailers have long been tracking shoppers in-store with cameras. E-commerce sites have also been using pixels and cookies to track shopper behavior for years.

"What is new is shoppers’ attitudes towards tracking — and their trust level with retailers," he wrote. Although privacy issues were raised in the early 2000’s over use of cookies for tracking, today’s highly publicized data breaches are intensifying the conversation.

Mr. Levitt believes consumers will accept tracking if "retailers are transparent and focus on making the shopping experience better" but that there will be "fast, furious and negative" reactions if retailers conceal their activities.

Why do you think in-store tracking appears to be receiving a greater backlash than online tracking? Do you see the store data breaches and NSA disclosures creating long-term apprehensions around sharing personal data?

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27 Comments on "Shoppers saying no to in-store snooping"

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Bob Phibbs

Tracking by an in-store camera is very different than having access to a customers contacts, social posts and potential banking information – all specific to them.

Data security is THE story of 2014 for retailers and all the breathless embrace of smartphone tracking by retailers is clearly not embraced by these shoppers – even if they are compensated with discounts.

As each story comes to light – note Michaels 3M affected yesterday – expect the bar to be raised for retailers hungry for the promise of big data, to be able to get access to the treasure they seek.

Dr. Stephen Needel

There’s no obvious benefit to the shopper for in-store tracking. Why should they allow retailers to do it? And yes, we may well be seeing a backlash against the lack of privacy.

J. Peter Deeb

The backlash is for all the reasons listed in the article, but invasion of privacy sticks out for me. When a consumer browses or shops online, many times they are researching products or outlets. When a consumer is actually in a retail location all of their actions can be tracked and that is disconcerting to many of us.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
The first point regarding any survey is the answer you get depends upon how you ask the questions. If you ask consumers what they think about being tracked in store without their knowledge, the response will be overwhelmingly negative. There is no question that consumers are very cautious about being tracked in store via their smartphones. A lot of that probably has to do with recent events and news stories about “hacking” and identity theft. We are still in the “early days” of retailers tracking consumers with their phones. Many consumers are quite ready to give up their location to get a promotional offer via a service like ShopKick or Four Square. Yet I wonder how many of those consumers realize how the check-in technology works and how it tracks their location? Asked another way, how many customers want to give up their ability to receive information and offers via their phones from the iBeacons planted throughout Apple stores? There is a factor of brand trust earned over time. If retailers want to track consumers via their smartphones, it is increasingly clear from surveys like these that they will need to be fully transparent, offer opt in/out options, and ultimately… Read more »
Marge Laney
3 years 5 months ago

Most people understand that when they log onto a website, their movement will be tracked. Or, in the case of cameras, that someone is watching while you’re in a store…except the fitting room, of course!

The trouble starts when our personal cell phones are tracked without our knowledge. Our phones are no different than our laptops on the technical side, but we perceive them differently on the personal side; this is mine, stay out!

We carry them everywhere and use them to communicate with everyone. They are part of us. Having our movements tracked through our phones is analygous to being stalked. The potential is that someone can be tracked wherever they are at all times. And that’s the problem…creepy.

Bill Davis

Because in store tracking is now being introduced after decades of shoppers not having to worry about this whereas online tracking started pretty much at the beginning of online shopping. Given the recent spate of data breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels Stores, etc., shoppers have good reason to be skeptical of retailers being able to protect their data.

Absolutely agree with Mr. Levitt that “consumers will accept tracking if “retailers are transparent and focus on making the shopping experience better” but that there will be “fast, furious and negative” reactions if retailers conceal their activities.” And transparency goes against the grain of most, 80%+ retailers.

Debbie Hauss

In-store tracking just seems much more personal, from a consumer standpoint. Opt-in solves the dilemma around the creepiness of being tracked, but will shoppers opt in? That is the big question that retailers need to answer. In order to motivate shoppers to opt in and actually use a mobile app, retailers need to provide a compelling reason – great offers, personalized promotions, special deals for app customers, loyalty rewards, gamified activities, etc.

I don’t think the data breaches will affect this area that much moving forward. Most consumers know that they can’t leave their house without being tracked on some level. Only the severely paranoid – those that won’t use EZPass for the same reason – will be influenced by the data security concerns in the long term.

Adrian Weidmann
In-store tracking is drawing more attention and resistance because it was understood that online tracking was perceived as an inherent part of using the internet, whereas in-store tracking has been introduced because of new technology capabilities. The fact of the matter is that the use of any form of tracking has been defended under the thin veil of “enhancing the customer experience” when in fact its use is to push more promotional and advertising collateral in front of eyeballs. In short, in-store or online tracking is most often driven by monetization strategies and is defended by claiming it is about enhancing the customer experience. The majority of digitally empowered shoppers — as shown by the statistics put forth by OpinionLab — aren’t fooled by this excuse. Those initiatives that actually do provide value to the shopper — as determined by the shoppers, not by the brands — are rewarded and accepted. Shoppers are warranted in their resistance to ongoing in-store (and online) tracking initiatives as most are digital vehicles to extract more marketing monies from brands. Brands should design and drive these initiatives as a real method to establish a direct and personal dialog with their shoppers and customers to… Read more »
David Dorf

As was pointed out, people are tracked online so why not in stores as well? What would have made the report more interesting would be to break down the answers by age. If we had relied on my mom’s opinions, we’d have no ATMs (“You can’t trust those things”). The next generation of shoppers is much more likely to share information if it’s to their benefit. Retailers need only make the opt-in compelling. My daughter could care less if she’s tracked as long as she gets a meaningful discount at Hollister.

Ken Lonyai

First; I don’t believe the study. I do believe the results are what was reported to OpinionLab and others, but don’t believe shoppers are really as concerned as they claim. When pulled aside and questioned, who wouldn’t voice concerns about issues of tracking and security? But in practice, especially when the hype cycles over data breaches subside, people behave contradictory to their stated concerns.

For most people, web tracking has been a known quantity since they first went online and it didn’t receive much scrutiny until practically the dawn of the smart phone era. It’s more of a “black magic” behind a static screen than in-store tracking, which feels to some like there’s a cloaked spy physically trailing their movements and actions and invading the small personal space that they move through in a public store.

Unless horrific data breaches occur, long term, I believe people will accept being tracked and the potential misuse of their information.

Cathy Hotka

I think it’s bigger than this.

Revelations that the NSA is examining every American’s phone records have prompted a backlash against mindless snooping. It would be interesting to sit in a room with customers, let them hear the argument for cellphone tracking, and hear their responses. Would their reaction be incredulity or affirmation?

Shep Hyken

Data breaches can happen anywhere; online or in-store. The issue needs to be addressed across all channels.

There is resistance, and there will always be. My mom still avoids buying anything online because she is worried about cyber-criminals. Slowly I’m convincing her otherwise. The kicker was when someone stole her credit card number from a restaurant she ate at. And, she still goes out to eat.

My point is that the stats will change in the next year. There will be wider acceptance of in-store tracking. Done properly, it enhances the customer’s experience. When the customer understands that, they will get it and accept it.

Edward Chenard
Edward Chenard
3 years 5 months ago

In-store tracking needs to have value for the customer. I know that it seems like a great idea for retailers, but normally done only for the benefit of the retailers. We saw last year how that didn’t help Macy’s in just one store for a test, they suffered a backlash.

When it comes to data, what’s in it for the customers needs to be answered quickly when it comes to data use. If the value isn’t apparent than chances are customers won’t like being tracked.

Ben Ball
We have reached this point because consumers are largely unaware of the degree to which they have been deemed to have “opted in” and on what devices. A few examples: The internet is an easy one – the vast majority of users now understand that they are being “tracked” in some way, even if they don’t understand the nuances of cookies and cream. Toll transponders – I doubt most people know these devices are sending readable signals that can be tracked other than at the toll booth. “OnStar” and any other in-car communications services, including your cell phone when you sync up for “hands-free.” All things “GPS” – including our phones when we activate that weather tracking app or any of thousands of others. “MotoActivs” and other wearable devices that record and upload our workouts to those nifty health monitoring sites. And I’ve only scratched the more obvious surfaces. So why the recitation of our transmittable lives? To insinuate fear of “Big Brother”? No, though perhaps we should be. The point is that as people begin to realize that they have “opted in” to tracking by default, they resent it. In-store tracking is a relatively benign offense so far. Remember… Read more »
Warren Thayer

Doesn’t bother me in the least if my supermarket knows which aisles I’ve been down, where I stopped and spent some time, etc. And if it gets me some money off my bill, great. Simply can’t fathom the problem with this, and I share this opinion with many people I know. Tracking should definitely be “opt-in,” with the incentives made plain, so people who object to it can avoid being a part of it. I suspect most people, if polled without leading questions, don’t really think it’s a big deal.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Data breaches are increasing the suspicion consumers have of any organization collecting their data. I would not be surprised to see an increasing backlash against companies that are tracking movements on the Internet. With all the breaches, consumers now question any claims of secure environments and promises to use data only for their benefit. In the past, consumers have been willing to give information in return for something. With increased suspicion, consumers may either decide to not give information or demand higher benefits for information.

Peter Charness

So how do you feel about your children being in a store where effectively their physical presence, and some of their information is being captured and potentially discoverable by others? Not the same as being tracked online, or your car’s location being discoverable.

George-Marie Glover
George-Marie Glover
3 years 5 months ago

What is the evidence that in-store tracking enhances the shopper’s experience? I think part of the distrust for customers is that they don’t see a direct link.

It’s the people who serve customers who have the most influence over what kind of experience you have. A sales person with direct contact asking open-ended questions should be able to attain all the information necessary to create a positive or enriching experience.

Bryan Pearson

These findings are consistent with our LoyaltyOne research (which we’ve been conducting annually for the past three years). In 2013, 38% of consumers said they expect to receive tailored offers in return for providing personal data. That’s a decline from 49% in 2011, representing a 22% drop.

There is a clear consistent theme that more than half of consumers don’t trust their data in the hands of companies and 46% find it unacceptable that a company tracks their habits. Yet it’s not all bad news:

  • 72% would be willing to provide MORE information if they had control over the data
  • 63% would be willing to provide MORE information if they received more relevant offerings from companies

Consumers are disappointed. For years they’ve provided their valuable information and they’re not realizing something of suitable worth in return. If businesses don’t act quickly to demonstrate they have consumers’ best interest at heart, they risk an erosion of the business-to-consumer relationship.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
3 years 5 months ago

In store tracking will be receiving a lot of attention – it just feels more personal and intrusive to shoppers. Further, the lack of understanding about how it works and why it is being used adds to the uncertainty. The news about NSA monitoring and identity theft concerns with data breaches adds to the unease.

Shoppers know there are cameras and other monitoring devices in stores for security and anti theft, and understand the purpose. They don’t see the connection between in store tracking and their shopping experience, and react negatively to the idea. Work to be done here.

Lee Kent

I’m just gonna go out on a limb here because I really don’t get the fuss. Do I really care if a retailer knows I visited the shoe department and then the fragrance counter? No!

I think the bottom line is that shoppers don’t understand what is actually going on. Unless there is one Big Brother in the sky that is tracking their every move, there is no way anyone is spying on them, except by knowing their movements while inside an individual store. And, of course, we do need to make sure that retail never contributes to the former.

The next question, and probably the more important one holding them back, is? Does this mean that said retailer has access to everything on my phone? Could there be a breach?

Now that we live in this mobile world where convenience trumps all and there’s an app for everything, it is becoming more and more important that everyone understand the devices they are dependent on. This means that we, as retailers, have to do our part to educate them on exactly how we are using their devices and what the impacts may be.

It’s more than disclosure! And that’s my 2 cents….

Ed Rosenbaum

In store tracking is a potential boon to the retailer, but of no benefit to the consumer. It is another way for personal data to be taken without either the retailer or consumer knowing it has happened. Examples are plentiful, Target and Michaels for example.

So until security really means security, don’t follow me around your store.

Ted Hurlbut
Ted Hurlbut
3 years 5 months ago

My suspicion is that consumers are no more thrilled about online tracking than they are in-store tracking. They may be more resigned to online tracking because it’s been a part of the online experience from just about the beginning, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.

Mark Price

In-store tracking is receiving a stronger backlash than online tracking because in-store is so much more personal. Online you may be seeing my clicks; in-store you are seeing ME. In addition, the new security breaches over the past year have convinced consumers that retailers cannot be trusted.

However, in the results, I think you also see that retailers have yet to make the case to consumers that in-store tracking can benefit them directly. Rather, with vague promises like “customer experience improvement,” companies appear to be trying to assuage consumer apprehension with corporate doublespeak.

If you can make a clear case for the consumer benefit, I think that consumers will buy in. Particularly if you give it time after the Target breach for consumers to forget and forgive a bit.

Lance Thornswood

I see two factors driving the consumer backlash:

  • 2013 was the year of no privacy: between major retail data breaches at Target, Nieman Marcus, Raley’s, Harbor Freight and others & intentional spying on U.S. citizens by the NSA; we’re all painfully aware of how accessible our data has become to anyone who wants it bad enough. And we don’t like it.
  • Surreptitious tracking has a major “creepy factor”: NSA, domestic drone aircraft and Google Glass. We don’t like being watched without knowing it — and how we find out about it makes a big difference, too.

Personally, I’m okay being tracked in-store. Between sophisticated video surveillance with facial recognition and my detailed purchase history in their POS data, retailers already know plenty about me. Bring it on if the tracking benefits me and if the retailer has the elegance not to make it creepy.

“We know you’re near the shoes, so we’re sending a shoe coupon to your phone.” That’s just creepy.

Richard Mader

In my judgment four reasons: data breeches, NSA, bad actors in retail who have inappropriately used personal information, and that consumers have not been educated in the value of being connected while in the store. Now doesn’t connected sound better than “TRACKED”?

There is great value for consumers through in-store connection particularly Wi-Fi: “chat” assistance, internet browsing of like items, guidance to locate items within the store or elsewhere, accurate product information, and many additional services. So I believe consumers will find value in these types of apps, industry initiatives (all stakeholder cooperation) will minimize data breeches and the industry will weed out bad actors and then consumers will opt in, and be happy, happy, happy.

Alexander Rink
3 years 5 months ago

Even though a large percentage of customers disagree with online tracking, I think many of them have come to terms with it. Tracking data through customer profiles for example, makes the buying process so much easier. It’s invasive and risky, but there is a benefit to the customer. In-store tracking, however, provides no immediate benefit. Retailers claim that it will eventually improve the customer experience, but that has yet to be seen. Customers want immediate benefits in the form of discounts or freebies, not potential improved experience.

Customers already have apprehensions about sharing personal data, more so now than ever with recent data breaches. Retailers need to be up-front about their intentions. If retailers forewarn the customer about tracking and see that they start to lose traction with their customers, great. At least they can go back to the drawing board and re-strategize. But if they choose not to disclose their motives and track their customers anyways, they will risk losing them permanently.


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