Drawing the Line in The Check Out Line

There is a new wave in determining customer satisfaction and employee efficiency made possible by technology.  Typical retail sounds are now being used by companies to increase productivity and improve customer service.  This is what Wal-Mart is attempting to do with its new sensor sound surveillance technology.

The patented technology which Wal-Mart calls “listening to the frontend’ aims to increase employee efficiency by using sensors to monitor sounds at the checkout counter. Sounds such as beeps, rustling of bags and other noises can help determine how long lines are, how many bags are being used, how quickly transactions are completed and even allow access to conversations between employees and customers.

According to a recently approved patent, Walmart has the go ahead to begin use of the sound senor technology.   Patent US 10.020 004 82 will allow Walmart to capture and analyze sounds in their stores.

“We’re always thinking of new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers,” a Walmart spokesperson stated.

No move has been officially made to implement the technology thus far by Wal-Mart.

It is easy to see how sensor information that allows management to know lines are too long so that a new line can be quickly opened will make the shopping experience better.  However, what is troubling some is the recording of conversations and the potential for misuse.

For now, this is just a patent and it is unknown when, or if, Wal-Mart will implement it.  Technology has been developed that will allow for the collection of more and more data, but the tools for translating that data into usable knowledge are not necessarily there.  Nevertheless, concerns like invasion of privacy are already being raised concerning the recording of conversations.[1]

  1. Brown, H. Claire. “Walmart’s new patents will allow it to track you in its stores-with or without your consent.” The New Food Economy, 25 Jun. 2018, https://newfoodeconomy.org/walmart-tracking-patents/
  2. Hickey, Alex. “Big Brother Walmart? Company awarded employee surveillance patent.” CIODIVE, 16 Jul.2018, https://www.ciodive.com/news/big-brother-walmart-company-awarded-employee-surveillance-patent/527757/
  3. McGregor, Jena. “What Walmart’s patent for audio surveillance could mean for its workers.” The Washington Post, 12 Jul. 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/07/12/what-walmarts-patent-audio-surveillance-could-mean-its-workers/?utm_term=.ec90e1ee82d1
  4. U.S. Patent No. 10,020,004 B2 (filed May, 2016) http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?docid=10020004&PageNum=9&IDKey=5052F83D3B0E&HomeUrl=http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect2=PTO1%2526Sect2=HITOFF%2526p=1%2526u=/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html%2526r=1%2526f=G%2526l=50%2526d=PALL%2526S1=10020004.PN.%2526OS=PN/10020004%2526RS=PN/10020004
  5. Weiner, Sophia. “Walmart Patents Audio Surveillance Tool to Monitor Employee Conversations.” Splinter, 11 Jul. 2018, https://splinternews.com/walmart-patents-audio-surveillance-tool-to-monitor-empl-1827529033

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