If you’re a retailer, then getting to know your consumer’s purchasing preferences is paramount.  For brick-and-mortar stores, data collection seems rather straight-forward; you simply track which items are flying off the shelves, as well as those that lay untouched. However, what many don’t realize is that these practices are just the tip of the iceberg. Some companies use surveillance cams to identify your store navigation patterns, while others deduce similar information using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi signals.

What’s motivating retailer’s to use such covert methods? According to the New York Times, brick-and-mortar stores want to even their footing with e-commerce sites such as Amazon. Traditionally, online retailers employ cookies to remember personal settings and to track which sites are most frequently visited.

Despite the comparisons, many consumers agree that online tracking is somewhat expected, whereas in-store stalking is not. Robert Plant, a professor at University of Miami, puts this into perspective: “The idea that you’re being stalked in a store is a bit creepy, as opposed to, it’s only a cookie – they don’t really know who I am.”

With the recent advancement of technology, tracking has become considerably easier. Smartphones are now used by the majority of shoppers, which means that Wi-Fi monitoring is extremely effective. Using only your phone’s Wi-Fi signal, a retailer can pinpoint your location to within a 10-foot radius. They can also count how many people pass by the store, compared to how many actually enter.

Another technique is video surveillance, which has been openly admitted by companies such as the Atlanta-based Brickstream. Brickstream recently purchased a $1500 stereoscopic camera which can distinguish between children and adults, determine the most frequently visited aisles in the store, and identify the number of open cash registers. The company’s CEO, said, “Watching where people go in a store is like watching how they looked at a second or third Web page.”

With the recent unveiling of the NSA’s surveillance program, privacy has been a very hot topic. Unfortunately, it seems as though privacy breaches are not limited to just the internet, but are also a growing concern in everyday life. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how accepting we have become of this Big Brother concept. When made aware of the methods used, one blogger's response was that "stores are trying to sell, so that makes sense."