"Imagine walking down an aisle at Target and casting a glance at a big orange bag of Cheetos on the shelf. Next thing you know, an ad featuring Chester Cheetah pops up on a video monitor in the aisle," wrote Meghan McDonough of Digital Trends (April 29). "A new eye-tracking device called SideWays is responsible."
McDonough explains that SideWays goes beyond existing technology -- which only tracks one person's eyes at a time -- and is able to track up to 14 people's eye movements at once.
SideWays tracks the eyes of multiple customers simultaneously.
This obviously opens up all kinds of possibilities. It allows retailers to gather information about how customers are interacting with products and in-store displays on a much broader scale. Customers don’t even need to be right in front of a product, they can be viewing it from a distance. Companies can better identify the effectiveness of printed advertisements, such as billboards or bus stop ads, because they can now track how many people are actually looking at these displays.
McDonough emphasizes that SideWays is a prototype and the technology still has a ways to go. Currently, it only tracks horizontal eye movement (vertical eye tracking is in the works) and it can't properly track the eyes of people wearing glasses.
SideWays is only a prototype, but retailers should still get excited about it.
Nevertheless, retailers can certainly get excited about the possibilities to come. This type of eye tracking would allow storeowners to discover which products or displays are getting the most attention and which ones are getting ignored. Knowing what your customers are spending time looking at and what they’re interested in means you can better target advertisements and promotional deals that are relevant to that customer.
SideWays could be considered invasive of customer privacy; customer anonymity and disclosure of tracking are important.
Technology like this, however, raises questions about the invasion of customers' privacy. And SideWays can be analyzed from both sides of the argument.
On one hand the thought of having something as subtle as your eye movements closely monitored can seem a little disconcerting. At the same time, we walk through stores every day that are full of surveillance cameras. If the technology is tracking eye movement alone then a consumer remains anonymous and not much harm is done. However, if the recognition is such that a system can identify and remember an actual individual by their eyes (not just that ‘x’ number of eyes looked over here), then I could certainly see some consumers feeling as though this is a breach of privacy, especially if they are not made aware that every item on the shelf that they look at is going to be monitored recorded.