August 2013: When it comes to getting you to spend more money by showing you exactly what you want, Amazon and other e-commerce websites are running circles around brick-and-mortar stores. So brick-and-mortar stores are upping their digital game.
How? With cameras, sophisticated analytics software and a little tracking device you probably already have in your pocket or purse. What tracking device, you may ask?
It’s your smartphone! Or your tablet. Or other WiFi-enabled device.
When your WiFi is turned on, your device sends out a search signal. This signal works the other way, too. It allows WiFi networks to pinpoint your exact location within a 10-foot radius, even if you don’t actually connect to the network.
So stores that offer WiFi know where every WiFi-enabled device is in their store.
Their goal is to combine this information with other data (such as in-store tracking cameras) so they can understand shopping behaviors and patterns. If they know where you go first, second and third, the routes you take through the store and how long you hang out in each area, they can adjust their strategies. And get you to spend more money.
Since your device has a unique identification code, called a MAC address, they can also track your store-visit history. But you’re just a number to them in the data that’s collected — not Jane or John P. Frog.
To stop stores from tracking your device, turn off your WiFi! And opt out of tracking services like Nomi by providing your device’s MAC address (follow Nomi’s instructions on how to find it on your device). Stores can still track your movements with cameras but they won’t have that extra layer of WiFi data.
Which retailers are offering WiFi to their customers right now? Macy’s, Sam’s Club, Target, J.C. Penney and Saks Fifth Avenue, to name a few. Which are also using data tracking services like Euclid? That’s a big secret and not all retailers let you know their free WiFi includes free MAC address tracking. But recently Nordstrom let it be known (loudly) that they stopped using Euclid because customers did not like it.
On the flip side, you can say, “As long as you want to track me, tell me what’s on sale!” When you log into a store’s WiFi network, enter your contact information when prompted, or download the store’s app or reward program apps ahead of time. Another option is to get RetailMeNot, an app that feeds you store coupons right when you enter the mall using your WiFi signal.