Spying mannequins
EyeSee mannequins created by Italian firm Almax sell for £3,200 each and profile the race, age and gender of shoppers.

Next time you go shopping it may not only be the overzealous sales assistant watching your every move - the shopfloor mannequins may be checking you out too.

Stylishly dressed dummies equipped with hidden cameras are coming to a store near you.

The EyeSee dummies, created by Italian firm Almax, have the ability to monitor customer buying habits.

Using facial recognition software, Almax said its mannequins, which cost £3200 each, can profile the age, race and gender of shoppers allowing retailers to develop more effective marketing strategies.

According to Bloomberg News, since their launch in 2011, several dozen dummies have been deployed in big stores in Europe and the US, with scores more on order.

"From now on mannequins will not only display your collections and encourage the consumer to enter the store," the company's website boasts.

"This product will do much more. It would make it possible to "observe" who is attracted by your windows and reveal important details about your customers: age range, gender, race, number of people, and time spent."

Critics have branded the move as "creepy". Many shoppers are unaware that they are under surveillance.

Retail guru Mary 'Queen of Shops' Portas tweeted: "Big Brother is watching. New technology lets stores use mannequins to monitor us, a scary thought, no?"

Emma Carr, deputy director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "Keeping cameras hidden in a mannequin is nothing short of creepy.

"The fact that the cameras are hidden suggests that shops are fully aware that many customers would object to this kind of monitoring.

"This is another example of how the public are increasingly being monitored by retailers without ever being asked for their permission. Profit trumps privacy yet again."

But Almax chief executive Max Catanese insisted that the innovation would not violate privacy.

"Let's say I pass in front of the mannequin. Nobody will know that Max Catanese passed in front of it," he said.

"The retailer will have the information that a male adult Caucasian passed in front of the mannequin at 6.25pm and spent three minutes in front of it. No private data or image is collected."

Almax plans to update its technology to enable the mannequins listen in on what customers are saying about the clothes on display.

What do you think? Helpful technology or just Big Brother goes shopping?