I've always distrusted mannequins. Sure, it may be slightly irrational to be wary of an inanimate object, but I've long suspected those uncannily flexible bone-white bitches were watching me with those empty, expressionless eyes. Now, my nonsensical neuroses have been confirmed, in spades: some retailers are using bionic mannequins to profile costumers by age, gender, and race. As if Black Friday wasn't scary enough.
Fashion brands think that mannequin cyborgs make perfect sense: if online stores are able to learn all about you when you shop online, why shouldn't a fake human dummy be able to fix its vacant stare on you and then, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, surreptitiously adjust window displays, store layouts, and promotions accordingly? Sure, stores already have overhead security cameras. But can security cameras face customers at eye-level and then steal their souls, er, "invite customer attention"?
Some bionic mannequin anecdotes: One outlet adjusted its window displays after learning that men who shopped in the first two days of a sale spent more than women. A retailer introduced a children's line after a mannequin reported back that there were hella kids around during the afternoon. (Ahh! Now they're going after the children!!) One store found that a third of visitors after 4 p.m. were Asian, so now Chinese-speaking staff welcome customers by the entrance. (Because all Asian people speak Chinese? Are mannequins racist?)
Some companies think customers will learn to love and accept their new mannequin friends as their own. Soon, dummies might recognize loyal shoppers, so they can offer them special rewards/find them after the apocalypse comes. One day, dummies might be able to hear you as well as see you, so if you were like, "Ooh, I love that dress in the window!" the mannequin could say, "It's in the back on the left and also comes in blue and, man, are you ever going to have epic nightmares about me tonight!"
A few experts do realize that not everyone wants a new mannequin BFF. A dummy who knows too much about you and your wants and needs "could become a digital version of a very pushy sales assistant," said Lorna Hall, retail editor at fashion forecaster WGSN. "And we all know how we feel about those."
I mean, yeah, pushy salespeople are annoying. But pushy, all-knowing mannequins sound like they could one day control the world, or at least my local mall. Can't we just ask real, flesh-and-blood employees to observe their surroundings instead of deploying fashion robots? Do I sound old? Will my future children be all, "Mooooom, why are you afraid to go into Target and hang out with my BFF Sally? She's made of polystyrene but she's such a good listener!" Will my future children even live long enough to speak before the dummies start eating them alive?
Some of you may be wondering: is this even legal? Don't you have to consent to be filmed? Kind of; U.S. and European Union regulations allow stores to use cameras for security purposes if they put up signs telling customers they may be filmed. But some lawyers think that stores that use bionic mannequins for research purposes instead might be breaking the law, akin to a website like Facebook gleaning your personal data without warning you first.
Regardless, many of our "leading fashion brands" are apparently already using dozens of all-knowing mannequins and have orders for more in the works; they just don't want to talk about it on the record. However, some companies, such as Nordstrom, aren't fans of facial-recognition software: "It's a changing landscape but we're always going to be sensitive about respecting the customer's boundaries," said spokesman Colin Johnson.
Wait. How do we know that Johnson isn't a bionic mannequin himself? Trust no one.