Skip to comments.After all, it's only groceries ... right?(Vin Suprynowicz:the future of customer tracking)
Posted on 06/30/2002 9:56:54 AM PDT by LarryLied
Katherine Albrecht has seen the supermarket of the future, and she doesn't like it.
"I've actually held in my hand the prototype next-generation shopping `loyalty' card -- a radio transmission-driven LED (light emitting diodes) shopping card," says the New Hampshire schoolteacher and mother of small children. "There already exist radio frequency devices in shopping carts so they can actually track your movements around the store. They're used in combination with the shoplifting cameras," says Albrecht, founder and head of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (www.nocards.org/).
Well, so what? If the market finds out I buy cat food and therefore sends me a coupon when it has a special on cat food, who gets hurt? Sounds pretty symbiotic to me.
"Right now they're at a two-tier price structure, one price with the card and one without the card," Albrecht explains. "They want to move this up to something called 'consumer-specific pricing' -- you and I will each be charged the maximum amount they've determined you will spend; it's actually kind of smart in a devious way. Already they've figured out they can mark the peanut butter on the shelf $4, mark it down to $2.29 if you have the card, and about 10 percent of the time that jar of peanut butter actually sells at $4 to what they call the `non-price-sensitive customer."
But once these stores have built up the kind of individualized data bases that a couple years of scanning our cards will give them, they're already planning to go much further, Albrecht reports.
At that point, in the not-so-distant future, "As soon as you walk into the store they'll read the chip in your (next-generation) card, while it's still in your purse or wallet. They've developed sensors in the floor; they track you around the store so not only do they know who you are and where you're moving, they know what kind of a shopper you are.
"You, on the other hand, they know you only buy peanut butter every six months, so what if we offer him peanut butter at $1.89?
"The special display on your shopping cart will start flashing when you enter that aisle, telling you there's a $1.89 special on the peanut butter, but that's for you alone; no one else entering that aisle that afternoon may be offered that price. If you buy it, that's the lowest price you'll ever be offered, because they know you'll pay that.
"The next time they'll try $2.29, then $2.59 ... . You'll never get it any lower than what you've paid in the past.
"But I'm what they call a 'price-inflexible shopper' -- they know I have to buy peanut butter every week or else my kids will scream, so they won't offer me any special discount at all ... . "
And even that's just the tip of the iceberg, Albrecht warns. Does anyone think your supermarket won't make its shopping card data available to firms with government grants studying excess obesity and the effectiveness of various programs to manipulate entire populations into improving their nutrition -- starting with special surtaxes on "junk food"?
Government medical and dental programs have already linked to similar shopper monitoring programs in England, she warns. After all, shouldn't someone who follows his doctor's orders and cuts down on salty foods move up in line for that rationed surgery, ahead of someone who ignored his doctor and kept buying junk food?
Some stores are even experimenting with systems that replace the card by simply scanning the customer's registered fingerprint, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer confirms.
Savings? Within a short time after the card programs are introduced, the "special-discount-with-card" price becomes the old, pre-card price, Albrecht says, while the "without-a-card price" can be jacked up to as much as twice the pre-card levels.
At that point, those 10 percent of transactions that proceed without a card-scan are "pure gravy for the store," she reports.
"I used to think that 10 percent was just a number, but increasingly I can put faces with that statistic. ... I got (a) call from a woman who said her son is developmentally disabled, he's retarded. But there's one thing he's able to do for the family: Every week he goes and buys exactly the same groceries. Same brand, everything.
"The first week after they introduced the cards he went in and bought his groceries, but he didn't understand what the card was all about, so when he got home he had spent an extra $8. The 10 percent is the developmentally disabled, the homeless who can't be bothered with a wallet, and it's -- I hate to say it -- the privacy advocates who are so proud of themselves because they won't sign up for the cards ... . "
Here in Las Vegas? Trader Joe's and Wild Oats have no card programs, Albrecht reports. Albertson's, which used to advertise itself as the "no cards, no hassles" store, started testing a card program in Dallas-Fort Worth, and introduced the cards in Northern Nevada last week.
Smith's, a division of Kroger's, is "one of the worst" when it comes to corporate dedication to the new card technology, Albrecht says.
Which leaves Raley's.
"There's a stated policy not to introduce these cards, and it does have to do with privacy issues," explained Raley's spokesperson Carolyn Konrad from her office in Sacramento last week. "At Raley's we really didn't like the way it felt when one person in line got one price and the next person in line got another price."
Albrecht would love to set up a CASPIAN affiliate in Las Vegas; contact her at email@example.com or 603-465-9093.
Me? I used to carry a Smith's "Fresh Values" card. As of this week, I've started driving the extra two miles to Raley's.(
Most of the stores are collecting terabytes of this data, but it's just sitting there because there's no budget to do anything with it
The kind of stuff described in this article is all very possible, and it's the subject of endless proposals from vendors, but the grocery chains are wary of spending any more money in this area because the previous promises haven't come true.
These 'loyalty card programs' are an advantage for the first mover, but once everybody has it, it's no longer an advantage and it just costs money.
I love giving them my 'demon'graphic information.
Too much data can be as useless as no data at all. Worse yet, you'll drive youself mad in the second example, trying out all of the keys you can get your hands on!
And if any such chain starts individual monitoring, their discount will be torched SO fast ...
It doesn't surprise me that this has been linked, in "Great" Britain, to following the dictates of the socialist health system. In Birmingham, England, they're registering knife purchases now.
Hmmmm. I wonder if I could . . .
Just pay cash and punt the card.
Eventually some enterprising capitalist will offer "Every Day Low Prices . . . for Everybody!!"
Peel off the bar card tags.
Fill in with a fictitious name or don't fill it in at all. Just throw it out.
Don't give your address. Don't give your phone number. Don't give your e-mail. Don't give your freep name.
When you check out, pay cash. No check, no credit card, no bar coded coupon mailed specifically to your address.
If you want to be really hostile, ask for a fresh application each time you enter the store and throw it away, cards and all, when you leave.