Pouting in the mirror in a Boots cosmetics aisle, a woman in her twenties tries on some make-up.
Preening and flicking her hair, she appears pleased with the results. It’s a deeply intimate scene repeated in stores throughout the country – and one that most women would never expect to be filmed.
This shopper certainly seems to have had little idea that a video camera was next to the mirror.
It was recording her every emotion and facial expression – providing valuable information for a team of psychologists to analyse later.
Only the very observant would have spotted A4 signs stuck to the wall saying that ‘images are being recorded … for the purposes of market research’.
The SBXL channel even featured a ‘Christmas Special bloopers’ montage of CCTV footage to the Benny Hill theme tune
Boasts: Sales chief Andy Bromley shoes our undercover reporter the covert methods used by SBXL
The video monitoring is a worrying example of just how many cameras now follow our every move.
As online retailers hollow out the high street, traditional shops are fighting back with new – and more intrusive – sales techniques.
I’m undercover and have just been shown the footage of the young woman pouting in front of the cosmetics mirror. I’m amazed at the detail the camera can pick up.
Posing as the owner of three convenience stores seeking to increase her revenue, I’m at a meeting with Andy Bromley, sales director of Shopping Behaviour Xplained.
It’s a behavioural insights agency which specialises in close-up filming of real shoppers, so it can analyse them and advise clients on how they can maximise sales opportunities.
Mr Bromley explains the benefits of filming customers as we watched the make-up clip.
‘You’re looking at her face as she’s putting on the make-up and seeing if she’s enjoying it’, he said. ‘Whether it’s a positive experience, a negative experience. Seeing her come to life, basically.
‘It’s just about encouraging people to test products when they look in the mirror. Because once you’ve done that you develop a positive relationship with that product, and you’re much more likely to go on and buy it.’
A shopper takes a look in the coffee aisle at what is thought to be a Tesco in the UK
As we watch more footage, Mr Bromley says: ‘These are all real people, they don’t know they’re being filmed.’
Boots, he said, was one of SBXL’s biggest clients, and from his laptop Mr Bromley shows me three clips from its stores – including wide-angle shots taken from ceiling-mounted cameras, as well as that close-up of the young woman. Bewildered, I ask Mr Bromley: ‘Where is that camera?’
‘It’s hidden in the shelf’, he chuckles. ‘We put the cameras in ourselves.’
Boots denies cameras were hidden in its shelves, and says that consent was obtained from everyone filmed. It said it could not produce consent forms because SBXL would have destroyed them.
Boots is adamant it complied with data protection laws. The company also blames SBXL for not protecting customer data, says it was SBXL’s responsibility to gain the consent of those filmed, and says SBXL broke its contractual obligations with Boots.
But the Mail understands that, under data protection laws, Boots and SBXL are jointly responsible for the data of the customers filmed in its stores.
While I was undercover, Mr Bromley showed me footage from other high street shops and explained that some of SBXL’s clients give them the footage from their overhead CCTV cameras, while others asked his firm to temporarily install its own. And when I ask how the camera can so accurately pan and zoom in on a woman browsing in a supermarket cereal aisle, he tells me: ‘Someone’s operating it.’
A modest nine-employee company, situated on the A5127 in Lichfield, Staffordshire, SBXL’s nondescript premises give no indication that it’s behind some of the world’s biggest