Motorola this week launched the MC17, a device aimed at the retail segment, primarily grocery stores.

The MC17 is designed to give retailers an edge in attracting news customers, retaining existing customers—and getting all of them to spend more money while they’re in the store. Motorola designed and is manufacturing the hardware, while application developer Cuesol is creating a variety of software applications that will let customers self-checkout as they move through the store, while retailers track their movements, their purchases and provide them with added-value coupons designed to trigger impulse buys.

The ability to get customers through checkout lines faster will help retailers, particularly grocery stores, both retain and recruit customers, according to Sheldon Safir, director of mobile computer for Motorola’s enterprise mobility business unit. “It’s a differentiator,” Safir said. “If you get them through the line faster, they’ll be happier customers.”

But the real opportunity for the retail sector afforded by the MC17 is the ability to track the whereabouts of customers while they’re shopping—which the device does by leveraging the store’s Wi-Fi system—and capturing what they buy, which enables the retailer over time to create an historical purchasing profile for each customer.

Knowing the shopper’s location in the store at all times is the key to leveraging the opportunity, according to Safir. As grocery shoppers tend to be impulsive and distracted—they often are in a hurry and/or have small children in tow—it doesn’t make much sense to spit out the pretzels coupon when they’re in the produce aisle. When timed properly, “retailers will see more in the basket,” Safir said.

Mike Grimes, Cuesol’s senior vice president of sales and business development, discounted the potential for customer recoil, either because they feel they are being cyber-staked as they move through the store, or because they don’t like the idea of their purchases being tracked and analyzed in an attempt to manipulate their buying decisions. “Privacy shouldn’t be an issue because this is an opt-in service,” he said.

Sean Ryan, mobile enterprise analyst for Framingham, Mass.-headquartered research firm IDC, agreed. “Nobody likes the Orwellian factor, but we accept it,” he said, adding that the MC17 is “neat technology and a good idea.”

But Ryan offered a caution. Given that customers are hypersensitive about the amount of time they spend in the store—which both Safir and grimes acknowledge is one the primary drivers behind the development of the MC17—Ryan wonders what happens when the inevitable glitch occurs.

“The MC17 could be a differentiator—or it could be a problem,” he said.