How brick-and-mortar retailers track you

Have you ever gone into a favorite store or even just walked by one only to moments later get a text or email from the retailer trying to lure you with a deal? It happened to Upper East Sider Ashley Thorpe just this weekend.

"I was walking around the city and I got a text about... a clothing store, and I looked up and there's the store so they clearly know where I am and what I'm doing," Thorpe said.

Some 200,000 stores around the world now use systems to track customers' smart phones, according to Oyster Bay-based firm ABI research.

"Retailers both in the U.S. and around the world have been looking for ways to identify where shoppers are going, how long they dwell, and making sure they get their associates to those customers and help them with any questions they have," said Jeff Orr, ABI's research director.

Orr said customers often opt-in for store email lists or promotions, download their app or sign onto a store's free Wi-Fi, not realizing that by doing so they're also handing over key information that enables the retailer to track their behavior through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Retailers including Walgreens and Toys 'R Us use an indoor mapping service called Aisle411. The software, usually embedded in the stores' apps gathers data for the retailers but and also aims to enhance the shopper's experience, Founder and CEO Nathan Pettyjohn said.

"It's trying to trigger an impulse purchase and recommend something maybe you hadn't intended to purchase when you went in, but it may be very relevant to you and a lot of times it's with a coupon or discount," Pettyjohn said.

Discount or not, some people don't like the idea of being tracked.

"It's creepy that they know where I am," said one shopper.

"I think it's a little invasive," said Michael Robert Wilson.

Pettyjohn said retailers are more interested in broad analytics about how people shop and what they're buying, not personal details about their customers.

"Retailers aren't necessarily looking at personally identifying information they're looking at 'hey was there a person who went here?' So they're very careful about not taking any of that personal or private information," he said.

If you really don't like the idea of retailers tracking you when you're in their stores read the fine print before you sign up for those texts or promotions or just don't sign up at all.