What you need to know:
Retailers often use location-based online advertising to attract you to their store. Once you’re within the store, many large retailers also use what are known as beacons– small electronic devices that are hidden throughout the store. If you have the retailer’s app on your phone it can communicate with these beacons to notify them that you have entered the store and which aisle you may be standing in.
Retailers use this opportunity to send you push notifications on your phone with promotions or message specific to you and that area of the store. Of course, it also stores and utilize this data to have a better understanding of where and when you visit the store along with what type of products you may be interested in for future targeted marketing.
For beacons to be able to track you, you need to have the retailer’s app and have opted-in to location-tracking. However, many consumers opt-in without knowing this type of hyper accurate location tracking exists.
Retailers and stores can have a wealth of ”offline” data on you, particularly if you participate in loyalty/promotional programs or provide them with your email address for digital receipts. Loyalty and promotional programs are designed to attract new customers and lock existing ones into their ecosystem by offering rewards and discounts, but they are also designed to collect your transaction/purchase data.
This type of data can be combined with your online activity on their website and enriched with data purchased from third-party companies know as data brokers to form a comprehensive view of your preferences and interests in order to deliver customized marketing/advertising campaigns. Retailers may often also sell your data to these data brokers, who in turn package it with other sources of data to be sold to other companies.
Beyond location and transaction data, retailers are also increasingly experimenting with facial recognition. They’re using this technology to identify customers, analyze customer sentiment, understand in store habits and to prevent shoplifting. Technology exists that uses facial recognition to identify you in stores and subsequently pull up your social media profile for retail employees to provide more personalized service and recommendations. Similar technology can also be used to track your movements around the store to understand your product interests.
Much of this technology is driven by these companies’ desire to have a 360 degree understanding of you through both your offline in store activity along with your online activity. This allows them to better compete with online giants that have significant troves of data and sophisticated techniques in utilizing it.
What to do:
To protect yourself from beacons, turn off location services and Bluetooth where they are not needed. See this guide for how to manage location sharing on apps for iOS and Android.