Brick-and-mortar retailers, on the other hand, face a different challenge. Loyalty cards have been, and remain, a popular method to capture shoppers' behavioral data. However, as stores increasingly offer free Internet to their customers, as well as mobile apps that provide electronic coupons, this provides data of great value to the retailer (not to mention a helpful service to the customer). Behind the scenes, the app gathers information that will help create a profile of the shopper. The app can also increase sales through the use of display ads.
Commentary: Big Brother's Mining Our Data; Do We Care?
In some cases, stores are implementing "soft surveillance" programs. Here a shopper who's not using a loyalty or reward card but who does use a retailer's mobile app is photographed as he or she walks through the main entrance. The customer can now be tracked throughout the store; the retailer can identify the sex, ethnicity and age of the shopper and, using that information, push customized ads to the mobile app.
The data that's collected can be used in a couple ways.
The first model is a real-time response and feedback mechanism meant to influence a customer's purchases through video prompts related to his or her demographic information and based on observations made throughout his or her walk. For example, a young man in workout clothes picking up a sports drink could be reminded that the store also sells vitamins designed specifically for high-energy sports enthusiasts, or someone picking up diabetic medication at the pharmacy could be pointed to healthy, low-sugar food choices. Identifying individual items that particular shoppers are likely to buy can impact the bottom line.
The second model requires a retailer to analyze all the data that's captured over time, identify patterns in how shoppers make purchasing decisions and determine what influenced their buying decisions.
For politicians, meanwhile, it is critical to connect and engage with voters. Having the ability to say the right thing to the right individuals and groups is a must if you seek votes. As noted above, this year's election is making use of electronic data. Different people with different interests can visit the same candidate's website and see completely different messages and themes for them based on their visitor profiles.