Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Creepy or clever? Mannequins 'spy' on customer behavior to improve sales

We're sure you've seen those old movies where the eyes of a painting or picture move to watch a passerby. How would you feel if that were reality? It might soon be, in a sense.

Mannequins are being equipped with technology used to identify criminals at airports to watch over shoppers in their stores. The "spying" of sorts aren't being used to provide surveillance, though. Instead, the mannequins, as first reported by Bloomberg on Tuesday, will be used to analyze consumer behavior.

The idea, of course, is to increase sales.

The EyeSee, sold by Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA, is being "deployed" to watch customers much as online sites do with "cookies" and "browser history." According to Almax Chief Executive Officer Max Catanese, five companies are already using “a few dozen” of the EyeSee mannequins with orders for at least that many more.

The mannequin costs $5,130 (or about 4,000 euros). Data from the device has already prompted retailers to adjust store layouts, modify window displays, and add promotions to keep consumers spending.

Fortunately, unlike those paintings in movies, the eyes of the mannequins don't move creepily in sync when following customers. Instead, a camera is embedded in one eye. Using facial recognition software similar to that used by authorities, EyeSee logs the age, gender, and race of passersby.

Examples of the results thus far:
  • One outlet adjusted its window displays after determining that men who shopped in the first two days of a sale spent more than women
  • A clothier introduced a children’s line after EyeSee showed that children made up over half of its mid-afternoon traffic
  • After another retailer discovered that a third of visitors using one of its doors after 4 p.m. were Asian, it placed Chinese-speaking staff by that entrance
Although the purpose of the EyeSee is ostensibly to track customers for "market research" needs, one could easily see the device being used for security reasons, too.

Why not just use those overhead security cameras instead? According to Almax, the EyeSee is superior to trying to interpret data from the overhead cameras, because it stands at eye level and attracts customer attention.

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