Finland: Shopping trolleys track where you walk, but not what you buy – yet

K-Market owner, Kesko, has been researching RFID tagged shopping carts that track where a shopper moves throughout a store. The study doesn’t have implications for data protection, claims Kesko, because it is the trolley being tracked, not the customer.

Ostoskärryjä ruokakaupan sisäänkäynnillä.
Shopping carts in K-market stores may be tracking your movements. Image: Jaana Ahjokangas / Kesko

Kesko has been using tracking devices attached to shopping carts and hand baskets to follow customers' movements around stores.

“It’s a key ring-sized device that is fastened to the basket or trolley,” says customer information head Antti Syväniemi. The movement of the RFID tag is monitored by sensors in the walls and ceiling, tracking the location and direction of movement.

Syväniemi says the system will yield benefits in terms of information on the movement and non-movement of traffic, circulation tendencies through stores and on what products to promote and where to position them.  The data is, according to him, designed to help remove bottlenecks or obstructions for customers.

"For convenience and efficiency, it is important that the shop floor works and products are easy to find,” Syväniemi explains.

"No data protection problems"

To date, tracking has been in use in only one Kesko hypermarket, according to Syväniemi, however he does not wish to reveal which one.

"I hope that it will be expanded to other stores, but that hasn’t been decided on. This kind of research is not exactly free,” he says.

Does the monitoring of carts give rise to data protection issues?

"No, because the tracking is anonymous: it follows only how the carts and baskets are used,” Syväniemi says.

In the United States shopping carts are connected to a small computer that identifies how fast the customer is moving, what route they follow, how long product selection takes and in what order goods are put into the trolley.

Additionally, the cart's computer can read the data on a customer’s loyalty card and recommend certain products or highlight promotional offers depending on the products the customer is carrying. Such a service has not yet been planned for Kesko, however.

The Smartphone app for Pirkka products can not yet tell the location of the phone.

"If I’m asked as a customer, I would like such a service. When you go to a new store it’s difficult to find products and this would help. But we don’t have that kind of work in progress,” Syväniemi adds.

Linking the tracking system to customer loyalty card information could already be a blow to data protection.

"If people are monitored, the customer should be allowed to choose whether to activate such a service,” claims Syväniemi.

Siwa and Valintatalo stores searching for metering technology

Other stores have not yet brought in RFID tracking.

In many outlets, such as German chain Lidl, technological aids are not used to track customers. Instead, products are positioned according to trade – simply how many items are sold – the company explains.

Also, in Finnish local stores such as Siwa and Valintatalo, hot spots, or popular items, are calculated on the basis of sales: if a product has run out, it indicates customers are buying it.

Furthermore, customer movements have been studied simply by observing and documenting where customers go in the store.   

“It’s an error-prone and tedious way of measuring trends,” says Finnish Local Stores (Suomen Lähikauppa Oy) head of development, Elina Lahtela.

The chains are looking for better ways to measure the flow of people, one option being the use of cameras. However, they say that systematic surveillance will not be used and Lahtela maintains that individuals would not be identified.

The information on where customers shop or move would help chains to design functional and attractive stores, says Lahtela.

And increase sales?

“Hopefully – that’s always my goal!” laughs Lahtela.

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websits. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.

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