Spy Mannequins Collect Customer Data
November 21, 2012

Spy Mannequins May Collect Your Data This Christmas

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A few months ago, one “Ad agency by day, invention lab by night” announced a new product which paired facial recognition and Facebook to check customers in to a location as soon as that customer walked through the doors. Now, some luxury stores in Europe and the U.S. will be bringing in their own eye-level cameras and hiding them in the most obvious of places: the mannequins.

While these ever-watching mannequins won´t be used to check-in customers on social networks, they will be used to watch the customers closely, take note of some basic demographic data and log it away, creating a profile of what kind of customer most frequently visits the stores. For the retailers, this is a brilliant, if not somewhat obvious move. For customers and campaigners, the gaze of these just-realistic-enough models can be a little creepy.

Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA is the company behind EyeSee, the voyeuristic mannequins in question. Just as it is in real life, these models don´t come cheaply, costing retailers just over $5,000. However, those shops that do buy an EyeSee are already reconfiguring their layouts and promoting big sales to bring in more customers, thereby giving the EyeSee models even more people to look at. Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas in London told Bloomberg, “It´s spooky. You wouldn´t expect a mannequin to be observing you.”

Customers are already quite accustomed to having cameras in retail stores, of course, but the Almax EyeSee mannequins bring a new level of creepy to the table, placing these cameras directly at eye-level.

Max Cantanese, chief executive at Almax, insists that these mannequins are “blind,” meaning they only collect the data about a person´s face as opposed to recording the images of a specific person.

“Let´s say I pass in front of the mannequin. Nobody will know that “Max Cantanese” passed in front of it,” said Mr. Cantanese in an emailed statement to MailOnline. “The retailer will have the information that a male adult Caucasian passed in front of the mannequin at 6:25pm and spent 3 minutes in front of it. No sensible/private data, nor image is collected.”

So far, it appears as if the EyeSee mannequins are doing their job, sending plenty of useful information back to the retailer. According to Almax, one retailer noticed that men who shopped in the first 2 days of a sale spent more money than women in the same time frame. This data spurred this retailer to make some changes to their window displays to bring in more men.

Another store noticed a significant amount of children in their store during the mid-morning hours, sending them to create a special children´s line.

In a particularly unsettling and somewhat controversial instance, one retailer noticed that a third of the customers entering through a specific door after 4 PM were Asian. This store decided to plant some Chinese-speaking staff by that door to greet these Asian customers.

As expected, some groups are cyring ℠foul´, saying these mannequins go too far by not allowing customers to opt-out of having their data, even their broad demographic data, collected.

“If you go on Facebook, before you start the registration process, you can see exactly what information they are going to collect and what they´re going to do with it,” said Christopher Mesnooh, a partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse in Paris. “If you´re walking into a store, where´s the choice?”

These concerns haven´t slowed down sales of the EyeSee mannequins, according to Mr. Cantanese. In the future, these models may even be able to eavesdrop on our conversations as they´re looking at us, listening for words about specific products.