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Thanks to the wealth of data available to e-commerce retailers, known by the popular buzzword 'big data', online stores have always had a wealth of data concerning their customers actions and habits. Not just the more obvious facts such as which customers bought which specific products, but down to the very minutest detail, such as how long a customer spent viewing a particular product page and how many other products they viewed before purchasing. Naturally, this data has allowed retailers to develop an unprecedented level of insight into the minds and attitudes of their customers. Thanks to the near ubiquity of smartphones in Europe and North America, brick and mortar stores are finally starting to gain the same advantage.
Apple has always been a pioneer in the adoption of new technologies that complement user experience, whether it's with one of their products or with their physical spaces. Thanks to a technology known as iBeacon, customers browsing through any of the Apple Store locations in the United States will be offered the chance to receive notifications, information and even special offers based on where in the Apple Store they're located. Think of it as something akin to the recordings available to tourists at high-end art galleries and museums which provide a running commentary on the art - except that instead of following a pre-determined path, the user is provided with relevant information no matter where they stroll through the store.
Any customer with the Apple Store app installed on their device will be prompted to sign up as soon as they enter one of the 254 Apple Store locations in the United States. Naturally, it's simple to opt-out for the privacy conscious, but the prospect of a wealth of in-store location data is extremely tantalizing, both for many consumers and for Apple. That's not always the case, however, as earlier this year, US retailer Nordstrom was forced to discontinue a Wi-Fi-based instore tracking system after customers complained about it.
Eventually, however, customers in brick and mortar stores are likely to grow used to the reality of being tracked in stores, as the possibilities for the retailers themselves are too great to ignore. The question will become one of incentivizing it properly for the customers - for even as Amazon makes a big deal out of recommendations for you, they must be tracking your every move in order to make that system effective. Better retail prices and flash sales are just a couple of ways to improve adoption rates, but doubtless other methods will be tried to ease privacy concerns in the future.