Mannequin spies: They're no dummies as they gather shopping data

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PARIS -- Store mannequins are meant to catch your eye. Soon, you may catch theirs.

Fashion brands are deploying mannequins equipped with the same technology used to identify airport terrorists to watch over shoppers in their stores. 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.

Five companies are using a total of "a few dozen" mannequins, with orders for at least that many more, Almax chief executive officer Max Catanese said. The 4,000-euro ($5,130) 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 much like that used by law enforcement authorities. It logs the age, gender and race of passers-by.

Demand for the device shows how retailers are turning to technology to help personalize their offers as growth slows in the $245 billion luxury goods industry. Bain & Co. predicts that the luxury market will expand 5 percent in 2012, less than half of last year's rate.

"Any software that can help profile people while keeping their identities anonymous is fantastic," said Uche Okonkwo, executive director of consultant Luxe Corp. It "could really enhance the shopping experience, the product assortment, and help brands better understand their customers."

While some stores deploy similar technology to watch shoppers from overhead security cameras, the EyeSee provides better data because it stands at eye level and invites customer attention, Almax contends.

The mannequin, which went on sale last December and is now being used in three European countries and the United States, has led one outlet to adjust its window displays after revealing that men who shopped in the first two days of a sale spent more than women, according to Almax.

A clothier introduced a children's line after the dummy showed that kids made up more than half of its mid-afternoon traffic, the company says. Another store found that a third of visitors using one of its doors after 4 p.m. were Asian, prompting it to place Chinese-speaking staff by that entrance.

nation


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