Several large retailers in the United Kingdom have begun testing a new type of mannequin that sends digital alerts to shoppers’ cell phones as they walk past.

Created by tech developer Iconeme, the mannequins deliver detailed messages about a store’s merchandise to customers who download the accompanying app.

“Mannequins in the shop window or within the store environment communicate with a customers smartphones via an app,” Iconeme says. “When the customer walks past visual merchandising equipment that incorporates a VMBeacon, an alert is triggered.”

Iconeme, who plans to bring the technology into the US market, says that the mannequins can alert users as far as 50 meters away, even when a store is closed.

“The store window becomes a portal for interactive selling, 24 hours a day, making greater use of the retail space on offer,” says Iconeme.

While shoppers currently have to choose to participate by downloading the app, Wired Magazine notes that most users will be unaware of the vast amount of analytical data collected by the technology.

“Iconeme is now taking a punt at making the digital shopping world truly profitable for shops, not just an experience for its customers. That’s because it will be able to grab analytics on customer behaviour, location and even age and gender,” Wired writes. “They can track how long a shopper dwells on an item and how they purchased it — if at all — to tailor their marketing strategy.”

Given the inability of most companies to protect their customers’ data from government agencies determined to “collect it all,” the app may very well become yet another avenue for everyday citizens to be tracked, traced and databased.

While the mannequins may raise the eyebrows of those interested in cyber security, other systems have gone far beyond the realm of technological convenience.

Italian firm Almax made headlines in 2012 after developing the “EyeSee”, a mannequin equipped with a hidden camera inside the head.

“The company refused to divulge which retailers were using the mannequins, but acknowledged that they were already being used in three European countries and in the United States,” said Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson. “CEO Max Catanese added that five major luxury fashion retailers had deployed ‘a few dozen’ of the mannequins, with orders for many more.”

Redpepper, a marketing firm based in Nashville, announced the creation of a Facebook app in 2012 that uses facial recognition cameras to reward people with discounts upon entering an assortment of shops and bars.

Walmart has utilized hidden cameras to track their customers as well. Shopperception, a network of motion-sensor cameras, is used to track how shoppers’ habits, including how long they spend staring at each item before it is purchased.


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