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Playing the Privacy Card

BY Katherine Boccaccio

It seemed like such a great idea at the time. On Nov. 17, we reported that mall owner Forest City had hatched this innovative plan to monitor shopping patterns at two of its shopping centers by tracking patrons’ cell phones during the holiday 2011 season, beginning Black Friday.

Forest City, based in Cleveland, was quick to point out that all derived info would be anonymous, as a means to head off potential concerns about privacy. No such luck. Less than two weeks after the initial announcement, Forest City had to pull the plug, at least for the time being, after U.S. Senator (N.Y.) Charles Schumer phoned Forest City over Thanksgiving weekend to take issue with privacy invasion.

The problem wasn’t so much about the tracking – it was more about the ability for shoppers at Promenade Temecula (Calif.) and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va., to opt in, or out, of the survey. FootPath technology used antennas set up around the shopping centers to anonymously track shoppers as they moved from store to store. Customers were notified of the survey via in-mall signage, and the only way for them to opt out was to turn their phones off.

Schumer protested that the malls should have given shoppers the choice to opt-in. "A shopper’s personal cell phone should not be used by a third party as a tracking device by retailers who are seeking to determine holiday shopping patterns," he said in a Sunday press conference. "Personal cell phones are just that — personal. If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so."

So Forest City Commercial Management, the management arm of Forest City, has returned to the drawing boards to devise a way for consumers to opt out. "We have temporarily suspended further trial of the technology while we work with the system developer on possible enhancements, and in deference to concerns raised by Senator Schumer," the company said. "We look forward to meeting with the senator and his staff, together with the system developer, to further explore his concerns."

Originally the tracking was to continue from Black Friday all the way to New Year’s Day. Now it’s unknown when it can resume. And the technology manufacturer – Path Intelligence, out of the United Kingdom – is speaking out. According to Sharon Biggar, its CEO, this kind of technology is used all the time. Online retailers, she said, track customer movements digitally without any kind of notification or opt-in/opt-out. The mall program is simply a bricks-and-mortar iteration of the same type of technology, she said.

I can understand Schumer’s concerns that, despite measures taken to protect personal data and identities, seasoned hackers could perhaps gain access. But it seems unlikely. And, in fact, according to Biggar, the technology is currently being used in Europe and Australia, and J.C. Penney and Home Depot have toyed with using it here in the states. I, for one, am anticipating Forest City’s next move, hoping that the company can blaze a path toward an accepted platform for gathering retail shopping data that would prove invaluable to all of us in the industry.

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Dick’s Sporting Goods Westward bound

BY CSA STAFF

PITTSBURGH — Dick’s Sporting Goods took another step in expanding out West with the announcement that it will build a distribution center in Goodyear, Ariz., that is expected to bring approximately 120 jobs to the area when business opens in early 2013.

The distribution center will be designed to ultimately support approximately 160 stores as Dick’s Sporting Goods grows its store base in the Western United States over the next 5-10 years and is eventually expected to employ up to 300 associates, the company reported.

The distribution center will occupy 600,000-sq. ft. across more than 50 acres of land and will reside at 4651 N. Cotton Lane at the confluence of Interstate 10 and Loop 303 as an anchor tenant in the master planned 1,600-acre PV303 business park.

"We are extremely pleased to announce our plan to build and open a distribution center in the City of Goodyear, Ariz., and further our commitment to the overall strategic growth of the organization," said Lee Belitsky, SVP at Dick’s Sporting Goods. "This distribution center, our fourth nationally, is a positive step in the expansion of the Dick’s Sporting Goods footprint in the western United States. We’re excited to establish deep roots in the greater Goodyear community and help play an important role in the active daily lives of the people who live, work and visit here."

Construction on the approximately $40 million distribution center is scheduled to commence in December and conclude early in the first quarter of 2013. The building phase is expected to bring more than 375 temporary construction jobs to the area. An additional $18 to $20 million in capital investment in technology and automation equipment is expected to be injected into the project’s development prior to opening.

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Consumer confidence up in November as holiday shopping gets in full swing

BY CSA STAFF

NEW YORK — Heading into December, consumers are feeling more confident about the economy and that is good news for retailers who are hoping for a strong holiday shopping season. After declining in October, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, improved to 56 in November from 40.9 in Ocober. The Present Situation Index increased to 38.3 from 27.1. The Expectations Index rose to 67.8 from 50.

Says Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said, "Confidence has bounced back to levels last seen during the summer (July 2011, 59.2). Consumers’ assessment of current conditions finally improved, after six months of steady declines. Consumers’ apprehension regarding the short-term outlook for business conditions, jobs and income prospects eased considerably. Consumers appear to be entering the holiday season in better spirits, though overall readings remain historically weak."

According to the survey, consumers are feeling more positive about the economy, with 13.3% saying business conditions are good, compared with 11.2% from the last survey. Those stating business conditions are "bad" declined to 38.2% from 43.7%. The survey also found that consumers are feeling better about the labor market. Those claiming jobs are "plentiful" increased to 5.8% from 3.6%, while those saying jobs are "hard to get" decreased to 42.1% from 46.9%.

Compared with October, consumers in November had a much better attitude toward the next six months.The proportion of consumers anticipating business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 13.6% from 10.2%, while those anticipating business conditions will worsen declined to 15.8% from 21.3%.

Consumers’ outlook for the job market also improved. Those expecting more jobs in the months ahead rose to 12.9% from 10.8%, while those expecting fewer jobs decreased to 24.1% from 27.6%. The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes rose to 14.9% from 11.1 %.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen.

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