Short Pump shoppers tracked for the holidays

Rana Harvey
Columnist

It seems like each year the holiday season gets bigger and people become more frantic as time runs out to purchase those last minute gifts.

This year, the owner of Short Pump Town Center decided to hone in on the insanity by adopting a tracking system to help improve customer accessibility during the busiest shopping season of the year.

The tracking system, called Footpath Technology, studies customer shopping habits by tracking them through their cell phones. It details such information as when shoppers entered stores, how long they stayed and where they went next. That data can then be used to improve traffic patterns at the mall and make other adjustments based on customer behavior.

Since thousands of customers go shopping during this time of year, and because cell phones are almost guaranteed to be with them while they’re shopping, I can see why the mall wants to use mobile devices as tracking mechanisms for analyzing high numbers of customer activity.

Many shoppers, however, were unhappy to hear that such a system would be watching their every move. Many saw the program as an invasion of their privacy, and some even went as far as boycotting the mall altogether. Short Pump planned to operate the tracking from Black Friday through the New Year; privacy concerns, however, elevated and temporarily ended the system on Monday.

“A shopper’s personal cell phone should not be used by a third party as a tracking device by retailers who are seeking to determine holiday shopping patterns,” Sen. Charles Schumer of New York stated in a statement released by his office. Schumer urged the developing company of the mobile tracking system to obtain the consent of shoppers and allow them to opt out of the program.

“Shoppers have nothing to worry about in terms of privacy,” Jane Lisy, senior vice president for Forest City Commercial, the mall’s parent company, told the Richmond Times Dispatch. “The personal information of shoppers would be completely anonymous.” Lisy stated.

In addition, David Urban, professor of marketing and associate executive dean at VCU’s School of Business, told the Richmond Times Dispatch that “stores have tracked customer movements for years. The new twist is that cell phones are being tracked. Short Pump is not doing anything new.”

Although it would be ideal for shoppers to be able to opt out of the program if they wanted, and turning off their phones would be a huge inconvenience, it wouldn’t really hurt to participate in the program. Shoppers participate in similar tracking systems all the time, whether it is through online purchases, their computers or credit cards. This is just an instance when we’re fortunate enough to have been notified first.

In essence, shoppers and authorities shouldn’t fear privacy invasion from the mobile tracking system used by Short Pump Town Center. It may be a little uncomfortable to know that your every move is being watched, but authorities are basically ensuring customer privacy. Besides, tracking happens more often then we would like to think. The data attained from this tracking program will aid in improving shopping efficiency during the busiest season of the year. Another gift for shoppers to look forward to next holiday season.

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