The high-end fashion industry sets trends on everything from the height of hemlines to the size of belt buckles, but houses like Armani and Prada have not been known for leading the way in cutting-edge marketing technology.
That could change. Here on the outskirts of Milan, I.B.M. is working on a way to mesh retail and technology that, if successful, will produce a new market for its technology and place biometrics — automated ways of recognizing humans based on physical or behavioral traits — in the forefront of retail marketing.
While retail biometric projects have been tested for more than five years, it has not managed to make the leap to large-scale implementation. Discussion has centered on ideas like linking somebody’s bank account to a reading of their eyes or fingerprints, which would speed up checkout time — appealing to some, downright disturbing to others, and not really an issue because the technology is not yet sufficiently refined.
The I.B.M. solution, at least at this point, involves tracking biometrics through a mini camera in a mannequin’s eye or placed somewhere in a store.
Once shoppers can be tracked, the next step could be advertisements selected to match biometric triggers: A customer walks into a shop and a piped-in voice asks if the jacket she bought last time has been satisfactory and would she like to see something similar from a new line. (Tom Cruise’s character received the same treatment in the 2002 movie “Minority Report.”)