Editor: Over the past few years, digital technologies have transformed the shopping experience for retailers, landlords and shoppers alike (“Meet the new digital pioneers,” Retail & Leisure, 05.09.14, p8).
Shopper smartphone apps now allow landlords and retailers to collect and analyse footfall data so visitor behaviour can be better understood and promotions better targeted.
Data from thermal imaging, facial-recognition technology and wifi and Bluetooth-enabled devices can help landlords measure the performance of particular segments within shopping centres enabling them to set rental levels accordingly, identify future trends and assist with the formulation and evaluation of property strategies.
However, it is important to remember that the collection, use and sharing of identifiable information relating to customers and visitors is heavily regulated by the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and that customers can be put off by ‘Big Brother’ surveillance in the leisure environment.
The introduction of such technology therefore brings with it a number of challenges. Provided only anonymous data is collected, landlords are free to use this data for their own purposes and to share this information with retailers. But landlords and retailers need to be aware that information they hold as a result of other activities may make otherwise anonymous data identifiable. CCTV, store loyalty cards, click-and-collect services and customer services information are all common ways that could identify ‘anonymous’ visitors.
If visitors can be identified, there is an obligation to inform them their movements are being tracked so that they have the opportunity to disable their smart devices.
Even if anonymity is achieved, the experience of American retailer Nordstrom offers welcome lessons for landlords and retailers. Last year, when it was revealed that the chain had been using in-store tracking for more than six months, there was a public outcry. While no customer-identifiable data had been collected, shoppers felt real-time tracking was ‘creepy’, and the adverse publicity persuaded Nordstrom to drop the monitoring activity.
Engaging in background behavioural surveillance is attractive to many landlords and retailers, and seeking active consent to allow them to engage openly with customers is now common. The provision of free in-mall wifi incentivises visitors to supply their information and to consent to location tracking within the mall for e-marketing purposes. Landlords who run these systems are able to deliver targeted messages that will attract visitors.
The downside is that the collection, use and disclosure of identifiable personal information is fully subject to the DPA.
Heledd Lloyd-Jones, partner, head of information governance Law, Blake Morgan