Two years ago, at a retail-marketing conference called “The Internet of Things: Shopping,” a consultant took the stage and predicted that by 2028, half of Americans will have implants that communicate with retailers as they walk down stores’ aisles and inspect various items. By 2054, he added, this would be true of nearly all Americans. The rest of the vision went like this: Based on how long shoppers hold an item, the retailer’s computers would be able to determine whether or not they like it. Other signals from the implant would indicate whether consumers are nervous or cautious when they look at the price of the product they’re holding—an analysis that may prompt the retailer to try to put them at ease with a personalized discount.
After hearing these prognostications, no one in the audience voiced any doubts that consumers would want such an implant. The attendees knew the retailing business to be changing so drastically and confusingly that such statements seemed plausible. By now it is industry consensus that brick-and-mortar merchants—the department stores, supermarkets, specialty stores, and chain stores that still sit at the center of the retailing universe—will succeed only if they turn those locations into facilities that track shoppers using wifi, Bluetooth, light beams, undetectable sounds, facial recognition, and more, even implants. Further, the people in charge of these retailers see it as a top priority that coming generations of customers learn to think of this surveillance as natural, even welcome—who doesn’t like a discount?
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