Retail Analytics: Smart-Stores Saving Bricks and Mortar Retail or a Privacy Problem?
‘Bricks-and-mortar’ retailers are increasingly looking to retail analytics as a way of staying competitive with online counterparts. Retail analytics is a subset of big data analytics, and proponents contend that its use can provide a greater understanding of customer behaviours and patterns. To achieve this, retail analytics requires ‘smart-stores’ to collect and store as much data as possible about in-store customers, and to build detailed consumer profiles that can be used to sell products on an increasingly individualised basis. At the same time, enhanced efficiencies are gained by a better matching of staff resources and design of store layout that directly correspond to customer behaviours. The range of data collection and analysis technologies used in retail analytics is evolving and currently includes facial recognition software and video analytics, specially designed sensors, Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi data collections and point-of-sale systems, including loyalty cards. When these collection technologies are combined, a smart-store can, thus, resemble a sophisticated consumer surveillance system entailing numerous collectors and re-users of consumer-generated data. This article argues there is a disproportionate impact on privacy when compared to the benefits for retailers. It outlines the developing sphere of retail analytics and its manifestation through smart-stores. It considers some of the key privacy issues that emerge through retail analytics and the consequent surveillance and ‘datafication’ of everyday life. This includes the issue of whether collected data is personal information, the degree to which individuals can understand the multifaceted data collection processes of smart-stores, and the importance and weight to be attributed to privacy in any decision-making by stores in the uptake of various technologies.