Some Store Mannequins May See More Than You Think

April 25, 2013

manniIf you’ve ever walked into a store and instantly had the feeling like you’re being watched, it’s because you usually are. Between all-seeing security cameras and roving secret shoppers, retailers are busy keeping tabs on customers. Granted, brick-and-mortar stores have every right to be suspicious: inventory loss due to stealing takes a big chunk out of every retailer’s profits. But some customer-tracking techniques have nothing to do with shoplifting; it’s the customer’s shopping habits the businesses are interested in.

While online retailers can easily gather loads of data about their customers, traditional stores don’t enjoy nearly the same access. That’s why a number of marketing companies have popped up in recent years to help retailers track their customers’ in-store movements and buying routines. However, their methods might seem creepy even to shoppers who are accustomed to security cameras scattered across every store’s ceiling. For instance, the Italian mannequin maker Almax recently unveiled a product called EyeSee, a camera that rests in a dummy’s head and closely watches shoppers. The footage feeds into software that determines the age, race and gender of each person that passes by the mannequin’s eye.

Since Almax’s product records people at eye level, the company contends that it acts as a better customer tracker than overhead security cameras. At one store, an EyeSee mannequin found that men who shopped in the first two days of a sale spent more money than women. The finding led the retailer to tweak its window displays to showcase more menswear. Still, some companies feel that leering, data-crunching mannequins might be taking customer-tracking a step too far. “It’s a changing landscape, but we’re always going to be sensitive about respecting the customer’s boundaries,” said Nordstrom spokesman Colin Johnson. The EyeSee remains perfectly legal in both the U.S. and European Union, though, as long as retailers display a sign warning customers that they could be filmed.



  1. Is using mannequins to observe customer behavior a violation of privacy?
  1. How do consumers benefit from detailed retailer research?


Source: Andrew Roberts, “In Some Stores, the Mannequins Are Watching You,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, December 6, 2012. Photo courtesy of Sebastian Dooris.