The shelves have eyes…

I couldn’t avoid last week’s coverage of the announced launch of Mondelez International’s  ‘smart shelves’ for 2015 following successful prototype trials. I felt a combination of admiration at how far technology has come in the retail sector and absolute fear in terms of …what next?

For anyone who has not yet seen this initiative, it involves the snacks and confectionery display units near to the checkouts (historically the ‘Bermuda triangle’ location for sucking us and our children into buying things we didn’t want) which have the ability to provide consumers with a more personal shopping experience.

How? Well, this is the clever bit. The shelves contain sensors and cameras and, using facial recognition and gaming technologies, they can best guess your age and gender and see if you seem to have children with you. By guesstimating what might appeal to you, different adverts can be shown to you highlighting different product features (low calorie, child friendly).

We all know that the shelves are overloaded with POS for pricing, offers and product information and so the idea of cutting this down (in the way targeted marketing has done through our letter boxes) makes sense.  Potentially linking this with information at the checkout (including loyalty card data) will give retailers and brands a whole new stream of potential upselling – recording things you looked as though you might buy but didn’t – and then almost immediately  offering  you a coupon for your next visit just to make sure you do!

A second article appeared today along similar lines, where Tesco petrol stations will roll out Alan Sugar’s Amscreen ‘Optimise’ audience measurement technology. An advertising board can be placed in store and information is fed back to the advertiser around who has actually looked at the advert and which days and times it is most likely to be seen. This also has the ability to show different adverts at different times to test the hypotheses of who the adverts will appeal to most.

Certainly a week for Big Brother innovation with further reports of Royal Mail agreeing to have bar codes on ‘junk mail’.  The idea is that it enables those sending it to see when it has been delivered and follow up with a call or text to talk about it. As someone who still commissions a proportion of studies via legitimate telephone research, I can see this causing massive issues for market researchers as more and more sales calls are targeted at consumers.

Junk calls to follow up on Junk mail – it’s no wonder people tend to hang up on our researchers before they can tell them what they are doing.

Technology is great – but I cannot help feeling that it has to stop somewhere. However, while it still saves money on mass marketing and increases sales as we all fall into the ‘personal’ marketing trap then I fear we are helpless to resist!


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Danni Findlay
01962 842211
Article date - 30/10/2013
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