Select fashion brands, including Benetton, have begun employing mannequins with complex cameras in their eyes to profile customer demographics and behaviors in order to maximize window display and employee efficiency.
The EyeSee mannequins, designed by Italian company Almax, retail for more than $5,000 and register a customer’s age, gender, and race, as well as contextual information including how long customers shop and how many people enter the store.
This controversial data collection has already been reported effective at one retail outlet. The EyeSee discovered a trend: At a certain time of day, there was a large influx of customers of Asian descent. As it happens, a tour bus stopped outside the store every day around 5pm. To capitalize, management had two Asian employees assist at that entrance at that time, leading to a more than 20% increase in sales.
As always, when dealing with a new mode of surveillance, civil libertarians are crying foul about the smart dummies, claiming that while in-store surveillance is designed to protect employees and customers, this means of data collection infringes on privacy for commercial gain.
Proponents of the mannequins claim that the profiling provides a valuable service at minimal risk to consumers.
“Although I understand it is something ‘new’, I don’t see any real privacy concern,” Almax CEO Max Catanese told Wired.co.uk. “The version we are selling now has a ‘blind’ camera, which means it does not record or store any image.”
The EyeSee mannequins have been employed by five brands across four countries, including two in Europe, the US, and Canada.
Reports of the mannequins coming to life and comparing notes when all of the employees have gone home remain unproven.