Will Grocery Aisles Become ‘Eye’sles?

Grocery Aisles Testing Cameras, Smart Shelves

Soon, at your local grocery store, it won’t be just the potatoes that have eyes. Maybe.

The Associated Press reports that cameras are, at least somewhat quietly, making inroads into a number of retail outlets in a bid to, well, get to know you. In essence, they would target you through demographics spanning age and gender.

The goal, then, is not to see who might be stealing, but to draw a bead on who might be buying, as the AP noted, and then send ads in real time as consumers ostensibly mull what will go into the basket. The end result is that retailers at physical and brick-and-mortar locations would have the same insight and flexible ads (in terms of targeting) that are seen across online platforms, as has been a hallmark at Amazon. The cameras themselves, said the newswire, are penny-sized, and the concept of the smart shelves raises the specter of just what is private – and what is not.

By way of example, at the National Retail Federation trade show in New York, Mood Media showed off its smart shelves that aim to detect the moods of passersby. Separately, Cineplex Digital Media featured video screens that can map out if observers are wearing beards or glasses, with the goal of selling new glasses or beard accoutrements to them. Those screens can also target ads to people at drive-thrus and other points of shopping interaction.

But despite the perceived potential for tailored interactions, discounts and special offers, “the creepy factor here is definitely a 10 out of 10,”  Pam Dixon, the executive director of the World Privacy Forum (a nonprofit that researches privacy issues), told the newswire.

Among the initial deployments, small in scale though they may be: Kroger has 2,800 stores, but is testing cameras in only two locations. The cameras guess age and gender, but the data remains anonymous and is not stored. Walgreen’s has tests at six locations with video screens connected to the doors of some of its coolers. Features that have not yet been activated, according to the company, include the ability to track where a shopper is looking. For now, the devices are simply being used to count the number of shoppers passing by the doors.


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