100's of M2M / IoT blog posts.

How Wal-Mart is “really” listening to their customers

by Larry Bellehumeur   |  Oct 29, 2018  
Hello and thanks for reading.

Having started out my career in the world of technology working at a call centre, I can verify that when they say, “calls may be recorded”, they really are.  We had to sit through grueling coaching sessions to review how our calls went on a regular basis.

It appears that Wal-Mart is taking this to a whole new level.  As revealed in a Washington Post article, Wal-Mart has filed a patent to allow them to use sensors to also do this when it comes to the interactions between customers and cashiers at their stores.  Before you get too hysterical, filing a patent is often a long way from actually building a technology, let alone implementing it.

However, it does take the world of IoT to a creepier place than some of us would like it to go.

The idea of the patent is to be able to gather audio data (such as how fast the interval is between beeps from the product scanner) to help to better train their team.  That goal may be a good thing, as it would potentially lead to shorter line-ups on your Sunday morning run to the store.  However, the idea that interactions between employees and customers may be recorded is troublesome to some.

One of the areas of concern may be in the area of health, as most of these stores employ pharmacists.  Customers expect a certain level of privacy when asking the most personal health questions.  As well, these audio sensors will also likely pick up conversations between customers themselves, which adds little value to the shopping experience.

It also is the kind of solution that may not bring value compared to the negative connotations that it creates.  Said another way, the benefits of knowing more about the interactions between your staff and your customers may be outweighed by the drop in moral your team has by feeling that they are being constantly watched and evaluated.

Sure, I get the idea that if you are doing your job, you have nothing to worry about.  This is often the same thoughts that are shared when the idea of body cameras for front-line police officers is brought forward, and there is some truth to this.  

However, does that mean that you are OK with the same level of scrutiny?

It has been said that if you were followed by a police officer for 500 miles (800Km), even the most cautious and law-abiding driver would get a ticket for something.  New solutions will monitor things like how many keystrokes an office worker has made or the frequency that a warehouse worker moves their hands to grab a box.  Would you be ok with such monitoring at your job?

The Bottom Line
Sure, you are in your place of work to do just that … to work.  So, there is a level of expectation that you are giving a maximum effort while you are there.  However, IoT solutions should be designed to help increase productivity through an increased level of information (or a “carrot”), not to be used to punish (or as a “stick”).