The ultimate digital dream, right offer, right time, right context just got a big boost from Safeway (a U.S. grocery store chain), which is really pushing the envelope with personalization. Under its new system, five shoppers could conceivably get five unique prices for the same item, computed by Safeway’s loyalty algorithms.
Where the creepiness factor comes in of course, is TMI (too much information). While shoppers love this type of thing, the creepiness factor moves in when you get an offer you didn’t expect (you’re offered a discount on Pampers after you buy a home pregnancy test). Of course, shoppers are already learning to work Safeway’s system. If you are loyal to Starbucks, buy Dunkin Donuts just once, and Starbucks will beg you to come back, discount in hand.
Creepiness factors are somewhat minimized in a closed loop system, which many shoppers find acceptable because it makes offers, within the single shopping environment – more relevant. And, both parties win. This has been proven out with sites like Amazon, that successfully make more money with collaborative filtering.
Where the creep factor comes in is when the nexus of forces kicks in … and your in-store behavior is analyzed against what you do out-of-the-store. Law enforcement agencies are already analyzing suspect behavior against the behavior of convicted criminals to strengthen their cases. A Gartner analyst explained to me years ago, how he could likely make me an enemy of the state (under the Patriot Act) by analyzing the books I had bought, the films I had attended, the behavior of my relatives, my travel patterns, my GPS patterns, etc., etc., etc. “Give me a few days, and I’ll make anyone a suspect” he said.
Who knows? I may have strengthened the argument by simply writing this blog post. I admit I sound slightly paranoid, but a good dose of paranoia is not a bad thing in an environment that is so rapidly moving toward a world without secrets.
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