Retail chain Nordstrom said recently that it had stopped tracking customers in their stores because of complaints they had received from customers when they posted signs that said they were monitoring customer behavior electronically.
But other retailers, such as Family Dollar, Cabela's and the British retailer Mothercare, are continuing the practice, The New York Times reported Monday.
The Times said customers were becoming vocal with negative reactions to having brick and mortar stores attempt to learn how long they linger in one aisle or another, in contrast to the passive reaction they have to data collection done by online stores.
"Way over the line," one consumer posted on Facebook.
"The idea that you're being stalked in a store is, I think, a bit creepy, as opposed to, it's only a cookie. They don't really know who I am," Robert Plant, computer information systems professor at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, told the Times.
The term cookie is computer short for HTTP cookie, which is data that can be used to track a user's activity on the Internet.
Advocates of the practice say brick and mortar stores are merely trying to replicate what Internet companies do routinely – and with far more precision and depth.
"Brick-and-mortar stores have been disadvantaged compared with online retailers, which get people's digital crumbs," said Guido Jouret, the head of emerging technology at Cisco.
What was the harm in a brick and mortar store being "able to tell if someone who didn't buy was put off by prices, or was just coming in from the cold?" he asked.
Taking it a step further, stores can track a customer's behavior in one visit and then recognize a follow up visit later, at which point the consumer's phone could ring with a message from the store directing them to a sale that might be of interest to them.
Retail market analysts are trying to do what online companies do in targeting advertising and other prompts for customers based on past behavior.
Here's an option: "If you are an angry man of 30, and it is Friday evening, it may offer you a bottle of whiskey," said Ekaterina Savchenko, the company's head of marketing at Synqera, a start-up company in St. Petersburg, Russia.
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