Creepy or Cool? Your Customer Decides - eMarketer

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Creepy or Cool? Your Customer Decides

Mobile-assisted shopping is popular—facial recognition, not so much

May 21, 2015

The line between creepy and cool is often in the eye of the beholder. And with in-store technologies getting ever smarter, and retail marketers attempt to harness them to delight brick-and-mortar customers, the potential for triggering either reaction is getting bigger—and moving beyond the basics of web-based targeted advertising.

Attitudes Toward Select In-Store Omnichannel Technologies Among US Internet Users, April 2015 (% of respondents)

According to April 2015 polling by RichRelevance, creepy is more common than cool. Retailers have a wide array of toys to play with when implementing digital technologies in stores, but figuring out something that makes sense to customers—and fits with the brand—can be a challenge.

When RichRelevance asked US internet users about certain use cases for in-store technologies, they were relatively enthusiastic about more "traditional" tactics. More than three-quarters thought it was cool if they could use their phone to scan a product and find more info, like reviews and recommendations, on the web. And nearly seven in 10 liked the idea of interactive maps to help them get around stores efficiently and find the items they were looking for.

But when the location-relevant concept of a map was converted to location-based push messages promoting products or distributing coupons, the cool factor went down. Just 43.8% of respondents were into this idea, while 38.6% thought it was getting a little creepy.

The creepiness factor went up as RichRelevance examined more sophisticated implementations of in-store technologies. While some high-end brands like Burberry may have success with facial recognition systems that alert sales associates when a high-value customer walks in the door, three-quarters of internet users thought it would be creepy for an employee to greet them by name when they walked in. They were equally put off by facial recognition that would identify demographic characteristics like age and gender and market to them appropriately.

Even without facial recognition, the idea that a store and its employees would know exactly where customers were—and what they might want to do—was unpopular. More than six in 10 respondents said it would be creepy if sales associates could tell they were headed to a fitting room and unlocked the door before the customer arrived—a seemingly uninvasive use of technology compared to proposals that would match a face directly to a customer lifetime value.

There was also a fair contingent who remained unsure about each potential retail tech use case RichRelevance studied. Since many ideas are new and relatively untested, consumers may warm up to some they currently consider a bit weird. But retailers will be wise to tread carefully and watch audience reactions closely. Ultra-new ideas may seem hip to marketers—and may seem like they will boost conversions. But they risk alienating shoppers who don't want to feel like strangers are trying to read their minds.

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