Sales & Marketing

Retailers are watching you: The Big Brother-esque methods used to understand customer behaviour

5 min read

27 February 2015

Understanding consumer behaviour is always going to be high up on the list for retailers and shopping outlets, and although it may be just a bit Big Brother-esque, the rewards are often substantial. But what exactly can we expect?

In 2011 it was found out that Tesco was making at least £53m by selling information of their customers’ shopping habits, including those of its Club loyalty scheme members.

This may probably be the most common way that retailers glean information from their customers. By presenting shoppers with a way of gaining rewards or money-saving vouchers, they’re allowed to do a little spy work.

Sainsbury’s even had a trolly with a sat-nav device attached to it. This would forward on data about when and what consumers out into their trolly’s.

Sean Poulter of the DailyMail reported: “Not only does this let Tesco chiefs know which range of products to stock in different areas, but it can also sell the information to a range of retailers and to major manufacturers, including Unilever, Nestle and Heinz. These companies can then decide where they will open new stores or run junk mail advertising campaigns for  particular products.” 

But according to Mark Weston, partner at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, in the digital age, the newest trend is for mail providers to track keywords in your personal emails.

“By extracting words such as ‘proposal’, ‘wedding ring’ or ‘marriage’, many companies will target users with specific advertising, so be careful what you discuss via emails, or your search engine may ask your partner to choose their ring before you do,” he said.

Just as this will allow you to tailor marketing tactics for each individual, retailers have started to rely on technology that will enable them to make changes to a shop on the fly depending on what people seem to be the most interested in.

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Rodrigo Fajardo, a Montblanc brand manager, suggested that they were able to move “high-margin products to parts of the store where shoppers were more likely to see it.”

Due to a tracking system he boosted sales by 20 per cent.

“It’s really a game-changing experience,” he added, “and this is only the beginning.”

Most shoppers ignore the presence of CCTV, assuming it is just there for security. However, thanks to new software it has found extra uses – using facial recognition patterns, ready to follow as you or your loved one as you wander through their store and track which items you choose to browse.

Weston explained that “ this builds a profile on shopping habits to inform marketing and product supply. For retailers, this allows them to build a profile of their customers’ shopping habits to inform marketing, interior layout and product supply.

“The luxury retail sector, in particular, sees great potential in facial recognition technology where their system can check information against a database of celebrities and valued customers to allow stores to identify potential big spenders. Alerts are then sent to staff via online devices with specific details including clothing size and shopping history which is key to ensuring the customer receives the most personalised service and returns to the store time and time again.”

And, as creepy as it may sound, that’s not the only way they find out what you’ve been up to. RetailNext has set upon the task of developing technology that would allow retailers to observe shoppers’ movements using their smartphone identification numbers and tapping into their wifi signals. This would allow them to know whether you are a repeat customer and where in which stores you tend to go to.

Another nifty device used by retailers is the iPad.

“In-store interaction systems are common practice in many stores, where customers are given the help of a personal iPad as they browse the floor to provide information on products,” Weston explained. “However what you might perceive as your own personal shopper is in fact a personal tracking device used to collate information on what items you looked at, and more importantly which ones you ignored. For retailers, it’s as vital to find out why you didn’t buy something as why you did.”

Try reading about the 6 company tricks that make us buy more.

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