Location-based mobile services like Foursquare can sometimes create uncomfortable circumstances for shoppers and retailers. Methvin provided a personal example in which he “checked in” at the Emmanuel Baptist Church only to receive the following early-morning note from Foursquare: “Looks like you’re near Lisa’s Bed. Tap here to check in.” Without knowing the exact nature of “Lisa’s Bed,” Methvin found the notice “creepy” — certainly not something he wished to broadcast to his network. Because of “questionable locations and timing,” Bozzuto’s is backing away from using the service, he said.
In response to a query about Methvin’s concerns, Foursquare’s communication office said it “provides a full suite of privacy controls to users,” who can set the controls “to ensure they’re comfortable with the amount of information they’re sharing with friends and the wider Foursquare community.” While many Foursquare users choose to share their check-ins with friends, “people can also enjoy the benefits of Foursquare without sharing their location,” the office said. In its privacy guidelines, Foursquare points out that it offers users “private check-ins” — a way of adding places to a user’s check-in history while maintaining privacy.
PCC Natural Markets, Seattle, a five-store food cooperative, engages customers via location-based mobile apps such as Foursquare, Yelp and Google Places. “PCC now is taking advantage of the marriage of mobile and social media channels to connect with shoppers with even more effective and immediate results,” said Ricardo Rabago, PCC’s social networking specialist.
Rabago acknowledged the “back-to-back challenges” of “actively listening to what customers are saying about their in-store and other PCC-related experiences, and then responding appropriately in a timely manner.” Staying current with comments shared by customers “is important for avoiding inappropriate use of PCC’s social media platforms and for protecting its brand,” he added.
To help stay abreast of what consumers are saying, PCC uses Sprout Social, among other listening platforms, which enable integration of all PCC’s social networks onto one dashboard.
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In addition to mobile tracking, some retailers have begun using video cameras to monitor shoppers — not just for loss-prevention purposes, but to support merchandising strategies. Marketers are also employing facial recognition, and even eye-tracking, to get a better read on consumers’ purchasing tendencies.
Green Hills, Syracuse, N.Y., a one-store independent grocer, used video monitoring systems in concert with video analytics for a few years, but no longer does so, said Gary Hawkins, chief executive officer, Hawkins Strategic, Skaneateles, N.Y. (He was formerly CEO of Green Hills, but is no longer involved with the store, which is run by other family members.) The video systems, which do not identify individual shoppers, “provide powerful learning and insights,” he said. “Retailers can use it to improve merchandising and impact customer flow.” He expects the application of video monitoring for this purpose, still relatively rare, to catch on in the industry.
Most shoppers are used to seeing video surveillance cameras in stores and generally ignore them, Hawkins noted. Retailers typically post signs saying that video surveillance or monitoring is in use, but “I don’t think it would be a bad idea to expand those statements slightly to call out that video analytics are being used to improve the shopping experience,” Hawkins said, adding that Green Hills used similar verbiage in its signage.