x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Big Brother is watching you shop at the mall

UAE retailers have started using technology common in the West to investigate people's shopping habits - from how you approach a store, what you look at and for how long.

UAE companies use CCTV footage mainly for safety and security purposes, partly because the UAE has strict laws surrounding surveillance. Sarah Dea / The National
UAE companies use CCTV footage mainly for safety and security purposes, partly because the UAE has strict laws surrounding surveillance. Sarah Dea / The National

It could be the end of window shopping as we know it.

UAE retailers have started using technology common in the West to investigate people's shopping habits - from how you approach a store, what you look at and for how long.

Until recently, companies based here used CCTV footage mainly for safety and security purposes, partly because the UAE has strict laws surrounding surveillance.

"They seem to have learnt how to get that compliance and now we are starting to see them [adopting the technology for a wider range of uses]," said Peter Biltsted, director for the Middle East and Africa at Milestone Systems, a video management software company.

The company designed a system for one of the smaller malls in the UAE, which he would not name, to monitor people's movements and detect unusual behaviour.

"I know that some of the big retailers have actually implemented people-counting systems," he said.

"What people-counting systems can tell you, because it's done by video and not by electronic counters, [is] which direction people actually go when they go into the malls or go into the shop. One of the big retailers has just bought about 250 of these systems," he added.

Some of Milestone's customers are starting to monitor their staff too, said Mr Biltsted, using electronics and video to detect credit-card scams and ensure employees do not sell goods cheaply to their friends.

Milestone is not the only company picking up more work as a result of the trend. "As the technology has progressed we are talking to various stakeholders within the retail segment," said Marwan Khoury, marketing manager for Axis Communications.

The surveillance industry, meanwhile, is looking towards a bigger stage. "In the States, when you pull up in your car [the system will] recognise your licence plate and know that you are entering the supermarket, so tailor-made promotions can be made for you as you enter the store because they know your purchasing habits and so on," said Mr Khoury.

"It's not here in the UAE, yet. But I assure you it will be."

 

gduncan@thenational.ae