Window shoppers: The man has his eye on you


A few years ago, I saw a movie in which a guy was strapped into a booth and shown a few commercials. eye-tracking tools recorded where his gaze wandered during the film and, afterward, a female scientist showed him the results. He was embarrassed when the scientist showed him how often his eyes scanned the breasts of the model in the commercial. The message was clear: when most people watch commercials, they rarely pay attention to the product in question; their focus is, instead, on the...assets of the spokesperson.

While the movie was futuristic at the time, eye-tracking technology exists and is regularly used to determine the effectiveness of commercials. Recently, however, Philips, the electronics company, took this technology to the next level, and applied to patent its "Gaze Tracking System."

Essentially, this new tool consists of a collection of video cameras attached to eye-tracking software, and can determine which items consumers are looking at in store windows. In other words, stores will soon be able to turn run-of-the-mill window shoppers into survey subjects. Based on information provided by this system, shopkeepers will be able to construct window displays that more effectively capture the attention, and the money, of passers-by.

After determining which objects are drawing a viewer's attention, stores could also prominently feature the products on screens in the display. Thus, if you are staring at a camera, for example, screens could prominently feature the product, give you information about it, and let your significant other jot down ideas for your next Christmas gift. Alternately, if you stare at a pile of Preparation H tubes, for example, everyone in the vicinity will get a little too much information. Somehow, I find the concept less than reassuring!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He's not sure he wants Big Brother to know what he's staring at, although it would make jewelry shopping a lot easier!