Maryland Legislation, Consumer Sentiment Could Quash Mobile Tracking In-Store

Woman shopping and looking at her phoneIn the search for online and in-store mobile tracking equality, none exists. Government legislators and consumers have never had a similar view on the ability to track customer behavior online and in stores, although major retail stores have tracked foot traffic in physical locations through technology and cameras for years. The technique tells retail stores what products sell where, the best places to put displays at the end of aisles, and what shelf level provides the best eye exposure to increase sales. Despite all that tracking, when it comes to electronically monitoring consumer behavior through their mobile phone -- well, that's different, according to Maryland state officials and independent research.

The Maryland state legislation Thursday voted to pass House Bill 924, Consumer Protection - Monitoring Consumer Behavior and Shopping Habits - Required Notice. The next step takes the bill through the Senate Finance Committee. If signed, the act takes effect Oct. 1.

The bill prohibits a merchant from using a wireless Internet signal or a cellular signal or phone to monitor the behavior or shopping habits of consumers unless the store displays at each entrance to its business a notification of the practice. Violating the Act would become an unfair or deceptive trade practice under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and is subject to specified enforcement and penalty provisions, per the summary of the bill.

Trust plays an important role between brand and consumer. Products like Apple iBeacon and others continue to raise trust issues when it comes to using mobile-based technology to track the movement of shoppers. Some mobile location analytics (MLA) companies have agreed to a newly proposed Code of Conduct, but most push for opt-out tracking while remaining tight-lipped about their retail customers.

Research from omnichannel Voice of Customer (VoC) feedback firm OpinionLab shows that eight out of 10 consumers do not want to be tracked via mobile phone without consent. If they do participate, they expect to receive a discount or free product in return for their participation.

When asked during a survey about the best way for retailers to approach in-store tracking, 64% of consumers said the best approach is opt-in versus 12% who state merchants should automatically track shoppers.

Some 81% of shoppers do not trust retailers to keep their data private and secure. Consumers are 9.5% likely to trust upscale brands with data when compared to mass-market retailers at 4%, although trust is dramatically low for both.

While studies show that Millennials are more comfortable sharing personal data with brands online, this does not appear to translate to in-store tracking with 77% believing it's unacceptable. The study also found 44% of consumers say a tracking program would make them less likely to shop with the brand.

Overall, 61% of consumers want compensation for their participation, either by receiving cost saving and price discounts. Some 53% would take free products. Not all agree. Nearly 35% of shoppers said that nothing would motivate them to participate.

Woman shopping while looking at her phone photo from Shutterstock

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