The signboards, which can be more than 1m across, have cameras that detect facial features which tell a person's gender and age group. A young man walking by could be shown details of a men's watch from a nearby store, for example. -- PHOTO: NEC
Science fiction is set to become a reality for shoppers in Singapore, with retailers testing tracking technology that could come from the futuristic movie, Minority Report.
Just like in the 2002 Steven Spielberg thriller, consumers can be monitored by sensors and cameras when they enter a store or shopping centre.
This technology is also being tested in the United States and Britain.
"(The retailers') main objective is to find out who their target market is and how to better serve them," said retail expert Sarah Lim, a senior lecturer at Singapore Po-lytechnic.
Based on the technology used, retailers can figure out shopper demographics by age and gender, where crowds tend to be and what interests shoppers.
This can allow retailers to better plan shop or mall layouts and tweak marketing campaigns.
A mall manager who knows which shopping centres are frequented by women could hold events there that appeal to them, for instance.
Malls and convenience stores have expressed interest in a tracking technology from local start-up Bimar. The firm can estimate shopper numbers across malls and look at how long people stay in shops, using sensors that pick up anonymous phone signals.
With funding help from the Singapore Land Authority, it plans to roll out its service next month for Orchard Road, the Jurong East area and AMK Hub.
Last week, SingTel announced a service that uses cameras to figure out customer demographics, while StarHub is testing Wi-Fi technology with malls for this.
For now, many retail clients of the tech firms are keeping mum about their plans, and have declined to be identified.
The technology could prove useful for consumers as well.
The Wi-Fi technology which StarHub is testing could allow shoppers to find, say, a specific clothing store in a mall.
Retailers are also testing digital signboards that not only track shopper numbers in an area, but can also serve up product and event news to consumers based on their gender and age.
The signboards, which can be more than 1m across, have cameras that detect facial features which tell a person's gender and age group.
A young man walking by could be shown details of a men's watch from a nearby store, for example.
One mall is expected to implement this technology in the fourth quarter, said Japanese tech company NEC, which is helping to set up the digital signboards.
The firm is also in talks with banks, and doing trials of the signboards for home-grown wine retailer Wine Concierge.
Its sign uses similar feature-recognition technology to recommend wines based on shoppers' age and gender.
Some malls have expressed interest in similar signboards from local IT firm FXMedia too.
The recognition technology for its signboards comes from the Institute for Infocomm Research.
There are also plans to test the signs in areas with high commuter traffic this month.
FXMedia co-founder Mark Wong said the signboards can gauge shoppers' reactions so marketing campaigns can be tweaked.
But tracking technology poses privacy concerns, said Ms Lim.
"Customers are okay with closed-circuit television cameras in shops. Once you have many gadgets zooming in on what they try and buy, it can be quite scary for them."
She said it is best to inform shoppers they are being analysed. Tracking should be done only for short periods, like during sales.
StarHub said it uses only anonymised data sets which cannot identify specific people.
Mall manager AsiaMalls Management said such emerging technology is being explored, but stressed that "access to our shopper data is given only to select employees in our organisation", with security measures in place to protect the data.