The Mannequins Are Watching You Watching Them

November 20, 2012 by Dave Haynes

When we think of anonymous video analytics in retail, we tend to think about products like Intel’s AIM Suite being integrated as software and cameras embedded with networked display monitors.

Now there’s word of a very different way of doing the same sort of retail analytics – using cameras embedded in mannequins in high-fashion stores.


As reported in Bloomberg (hat tip to tech blog The Verge for noticing), retailers like Benetton Group SpA are using the Italian-made EyeSee mannequin to do audience measurement in their stores.

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 like that used by police. 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 the luxury market will expand 5 percent in 2012, less than half last year’s rate.

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

The mannequin, marketed by Almax SpA and costing about $5,000 USD, has been on the market for about a year and, says Bloomberg, is now being used in three European countries.

This special camera, says Almax in its marketing, is installed inside the mannequin’s head analyzes the facial features of people passing through the front and provides statistical and contextual information useful to the development of targeted marketing strategies. The embedded software can also provide other data such as the number of people passing in front of a window at certain times of the day.

From now on you can know how many people enter the store, record what time there is a greater influx of customers (and which type) and see if some areas risk to be overcrowded.

The Bloomberg article stirs up the usual stink about privacy and suggested creepiness of it all, with Nordstrom even suggesting it goes too far.


It’s a camera taking a video stream and running it through a PC loaded with software that tries to capture and then count and parse patterns of faces. If you think your privacy is invaded by something that, at most, logs that you, a 20-55 male, passed by … well, you need to get some better meds.

Then again, the technology being used is by a Milan company, Kee Square, that actually does face recognition – not just face pattern detection.

Where this would definitely be a little cheeky is if there is no notification of cameras being used on premise. The Digital Signage Federation has guidelines on consumer notice, and the Intel guys have an excellent paper on privacy best practises. With most video analytics systems, if you make the effort you can see there is a camera.

It’s not clear if that is happening here, and I am guessing the camera in this case is in one of the mannequins eye sockets. In many respects, it’s pretty clever.

Whatever the case, there is indeed some some envelope-pushing going on here. Almax is, reports Bloomberg,  testing technology that recognizes words to allow retailers to eavesdrop on what shoppers say about the mannequin’s attire. 

That would generate some genuine privacy concerns, I think.


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