On Monday, The New York Times ran an article with the headline “Attention, Shoppers: Store is Tracking Your Cell” and the outrage was immediate. Nordstrom and other retailers have admitted to using shoppers’ cell phone Wi-Fi signals to track their shopping habits and many consumers were outraged at such a blatant violation of privacy.

Shoppers also shared their dissatisfaction after the news was reported on the Facebook page of the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas CBS affiliate.

Rachelle doesn’t “agree with this business practice,” Angelo suggests that consumers “shop at small businesses,” and George calls the practice, “way over the line.” Paula doesn’t like the idea but she’s on to something, saying “It's just a dumb idea by some outside marketing person Nordstrom hired. It won't last very long. Customer foot traffic will overrule this. In the meantime I'll just remind myself to shut my phone down before I walk into their store.”

While I don’t think it is a dumb idea, the same data can be gleaned by watching video cameras, customers can simply shut down their phones. Better yet, leave the phone on and turn off Wi-Fi, since Nordstrom admits that the data is obtained through Wi-Fi signals.

I’m a frequent Nordstrom shopper and I’ve never once bothered to turn off my phone while shopping in the store. If someone were to watch me on the store’s video footage, they will know that I spent 13.5 minutes in children’s shoes, picked up four different pairs, tried on two pairs and purchased one. 

If the store uses the cell phone tracking, instead, they will know that I spent 13.5 minutes in children’s shoes and walked around the various displays but they won’t know what I purchased until they look at the cash register records.

This is anonymous data and one commenter on The New York Times website described it well, “Bottom line is you're just another random drop of water in the sea of shoppers.” Narg of Tulsa, Oklahoma goes on to say, “None of these stores really know or care about your "personal" info. Plus, who really thinks this is new? It's not, just the format and source of the data is new. Stores have been watching shoppers from the beginning of time to see what they do and what they like.”

Narg’s spot-on with his statement. As technology advances, the ways that stores collect data about its shoppers also advances. The same could be said for businesses that don’t even operate in the retail sector. Businesses, across all industries and sectors, strive to obtain as much data about their customers as possible. Customers keep a business running and if a business can cater its products and services to better meet a customer’s needs, then it has an increased chance of long-term success.

What do you think of the cell-phone tracking brouhaha - big deal or much ado about nothing?

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