The Mannequins Will Be Watching You

This holiday season, if you shop at Benetton, you may be under surveillance.

Of course, we are all pretty used to the idea of security cameras trained on the entrance of a store, or over a counter of particularly expensive goods, and we’ve become accustomed — even if we don’t like it, on a gut level — to the tracking that comes with online shopping, populating the ad boxes from website to website of those sneakers you just looked at. But Benetton’s surveillance looks a little different: The store has purchased mannequins from an Italian company which promises that “from now on the mannequins will not only display your collections … [but will] make it possible to ‘observe’ who is attracted by your windows and reveal important details about [them].”

As Bloomberg‘s Andrew Roberts reports:

Retailers are introducing the EyeSee, sold by Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA, to glean data on customers much as online merchants are able to do. The 4,000-euro ($5,072) device has spurred shops to adjust window displays, store layouts and promotions to keep consumers walking in the door and spending.

“It’s spooky,” said Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas in London. “You wouldn’t expect a mannequin to be observing you.”

The EyeSee looks ordinary enough on the outside, with its slender polystyrene frame, blank face and improbable pose. Inside, it’s no dummy. A camera embedded in one eye feeds data into facial-recognition software like that used by police. It logs the age, gender, and race of passers-by.

The company claims that the mannequins are better able to watch shoppers than wall-mounted security cameras because of their eye-level perspective and the fact that many consumer will stand and linger close to the mannequins as they examine the display. Notwithstanding whether this supposed advantage is real or just hype from a company looking to sell some souped-up mannequins, it must be said that the two modes of surveillance *feel* somehow different: We may not love wall-mounted camera surveillance, but in comparison it seems quotidian, a concession we make to store-owners looking to both protect and promote their wares.

By Rebecca J. Rosen
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