It always seems like there’s one of two scenarios at a store: Either you can’t find a retail associate to answer your questions or you feel like screaming “I AM JUST BROWSING!” to the three or four constantly hovering in your immediate vicinity. If that second scenario strikes fear into your heart, prepare your heart to be extra fearful with the expansion of new, in-store tracking technology that works through your phone’s apps.
Okay, great, beacons, shopping, got it. So what do these tiny Bluetooth enabled devices actually do at those stores?
In a nutshell, they track shoppers. Let’s say you’ve downloaded an app for a certain retailer and it has tools that will for example, remind you once you’ve stepped foot in the store that you made a grocery list. You walk through the doors and bing! Your grocery list pops up as a reminder not to forget something.
Other apps might send you alerts about store discounts, items that are on sale or ways you can chalk up loyalty points toward other purchases.
(I imagine standing near the deodorant display and a message popping up reading, “Something smells ripe. Better stock up.”)
It all sounds very helpful, but the trade-off is that while you’re roaming the store, these iBeacons are tracking you, ostensibly to collect data about your shopping habits as well as send you helpful tidbits. They can pinpoint you to within a few feet of your smartphone, making marketing to you pretty darn effective. And as for that info they’ve collected, it’s likely that you won’t be totally aware of what it’s being used for in the future.
On the one hand, if you’ve already agreed to this kind of marketing/service when you download an app, it’s great to get the alerts when you’re actually in the store or near something you want to buy, instead of when you’re simply walking past it on the street and don’t want to be annoyed just because you’re nearby.
But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like your every move watched no matter where you turn in a store, then you’ll probably want to keep an eye out for any app using iBeacon technology or something similar. Yet another reason to actually read those Terms of Service before you hit “Install.”