New Shopping Technology Could Breed Supermarket Discrimination

from the don't-we-have-more-important-things-to-worry-about? dept

I know that there are some people in this world who really hate those membership cards that many supermarkets force on their customers in order to receive various discounts. The issue that many have is that it’s a privacy invasion because (of course) the supermarkets aren’t just offering you discounts, they’re tracking your every purchase (ooh scary). For the people who really hate those systems, they are (of course) free to not use those cards, or to support stores that don’t make use of them. Now those same folks have the chance to get extra ballistic reading about how Safeway is testing out computerized shopping carts in a couple of their stores. Shoppers swipe their cards, and are directed to cheaper items, or to items they often buy. However, some are afraid that this will lead to different “classes” of shoppers as some get benefits that others don’t. I’m not sure I see why this is such a big deal. In fact, as someone points out in the article, such a system might backfire when people realize just how much info is collected about them.

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Comments on “New Shopping Technology Could Breed Supermarket Discrimination”

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2Lazy2Register says:

The cards are bad,

but what I really hate is the DIY checkout lane. These never seem to work for me, and almost always result in a store employee having to come over and help me. Frankly, I don’t see the point of these things from a customers perspective. I’m sure they are huge cost-savers for the store, and those savings are ostensibly passed along to us (but probably only if you have the stores card!!) but I find them too annoying to deal with. These days I shop at the super mega store, which has NO loyalty card, and NO DIY checkout lines. Groceries are a commodity market and I will use the one that offers the best service/convenience.

Steve Yi says:

No-Privacy Worst Case Scenario

I live in Dallas, and the major chain here offers discounts for using their ‘Reward Card’, which tracks all of my purchases. As much as I dislike this practice, what are the consequences 10-20 years from now?

Could health-insurance agencies get access to this information someday, and deny coverage to people who buy high-fat/cholesterol foods? Can they charge more for ‘riskier’ individuals who have purchased cigarettes?

aReader says:

Re: No-Privacy Worst Case Scenario

If there is an anonymity element in this card, it will ensure the privacy of a consumer. For example, Mike has a safeway card (I am sure, he does!) and a credit card using which he pays for his grocery. Technically, I can take Mike’s safeway card and give my credit card. If these two cards are not tracked “together” then there is no threat as Safeway does not know, who is Mike. In this case, the card is merely used as a “reward” card.
The privacy may be compromised if a consumer does not see what he/she has right to see, because the buying experience would be “customized” based on all these weird computerized carts. I think, at the end of the day, it all depends on what Safeway does with your data. There are many effective means to collect the data, use them, and not violate anyone’s privacy, but who is going to watch?

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

Stop and Shop used to have a web site that allowed you to look back at your previous shop trips and make up a shopping list from that. Was a kewl service but like many free web services it went away. They should save themselves the computerized carts and simply have an email sent to each customer telling them what items they commonly by are on sale for the week. Spam you can Eat !!!!!

And SteveYi, if they deny or charge the smoking, fried food eaters more for insurance or deny them … oh well. I’m tired of paying for the way other people choose to drive or eat them selves to death. If it keeps my insurance premiums down, go for it.

COD (user link) says:

No Subject Given

When I was in grad school way back in he very early 90’s, we did a case study of a company that had computerized shopping carts in Kroger’s in Atlanta. These things tracked your movement through the store, and special deals and coupons popped up on the LCD screen as you passed particular products. They were even alarmed and the alarm was set off of the cart got a certain distance away from the store. I don’t remember the name of the company, and they went out of business shortly after our project. Ahead of their time I guess.

I shop at a Warehouse type store that advertises no cards necessary – same low prices for all customers, etc.

I remember hearing a news story last year about some divorce case in CA where the wife was trying to use the alcohol purchases on record at the grocery store to claim her ex was an alcoholic, abusive, etc. Not sure how it turned out – not even sure if it was real. It could be an urban legend, but its still worth worrying about IMO.

LittleW0lf says:

Privacy is dead...long live privacy...

Whether we like it or not, privacy has been buried and the weeds are already growing out of its grave. If you use a credit card, checkbook, or anything other than cash, you are being tracked. And companies are working harder and harder to consolidate that information they are collecting to make it easier to remove your money from your pocket.

Creating a utopia built on impulse buying will ultimately fail, however, as it has in the past and is currently happening. Greed drives it, but greed is a pursuit that ends with an ultimate collapse of economy. People aren’t saving money, they aren’t managing their budgets, and they are struggling to make ends meet. For all our technology, we are a country which is slowly turning itself into a welfare economy, and the stock markets and consumer confidence is beginning to show this.

Mike (profile) says:

How long will they last?

I probably should have added this to my original post, but, of course, the biggest issue with these things it that they probably won’t work very long. Something like that is likely to break very quickly after being banged around a few times – and it’s unlikely each Safeway will have a technician on hand to fix them.

On the whole, the expense is probably going to outweight the benefit for the grocery stores.

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