Putting the Cart Before the Hoarse


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I’m a foodie, and I’ve said numerous times that my choice for a second profession would be professional grocery shopping. (I’m sensing an Xtreme shopping reality TV show coming on . . .).

That’s I’m both fascinated by and skeptical of an innovation I spotted courtesy of Geekwire. Whole Foods and Microsoft are working on a “smart shopping cart,” one that uses tech from Microsoft’s Kinect hardware to assist a grocery shopper’s experience. Reports GeekWire: “The motorized cart identifies a shopper with a loyalty card, follows the shopper around the store [literally follows, the foodie points out], scans items as they’re placed inside, marks them off the shopping list, and even checks the shopper out in the end.”

The fascinated foodie (and loyalty marketer) in me says, “Wow – there’s a customer experience that results from the store really knowing me.” The skeptical foodie (and loyalty marketer) in me says, “Um, hold on just a second.”

I’m going to quickly skim over my tactical cautions. For instance, 1) A cart that follows you? Does it know when to get out of someone’s way in the aisle? Does it stop to repair its own squeaky wheel? And, 2) A cart that talks? Perhaps the cart might replace the guy in aisle 3 who you think is talking to you when he says “Can I ask you a question?” but is actually calling home on his headset to see if he’s picking up the right barbeque sauce.

Instead, let’s pick up on that “talking aloud” part of the story for a broader thought about customer relationships. In the demonstration you can see at GeekWire, the demonstrator places various items in the cart, which are acknowledged – verbally – by the cart itself. Ignore the idea of a cacophony of chatty carts in a grocery store (kaffeklatch goes kartyklatch?), and consider: Do I as a customer want the world to know what I’m buying? Those fatty snacks? Those cheapy discount cereals? Or, as in the case of the demonstration, “Pasta, spaghetti – note you have indicated you prefer gluten-free.” Thank you for watching out for my health. Thank you for announcing my medical condition to the entire aisle.

But the broader thought I’m talking about extends to the non-verbal. What I’ve just discussed is possibly an extreme case of personalized messages communicating to the world, “I know too much about this guy.” But you don’t have to communicate that to the world to risk a negative effect. Sometimes, personalized messages that are too directive or even dictatorial can risk communicating to the recipient, “I know too much about you.”

Personal is quiet, between you and me, as friends. So it should be with brand-customer personalization – it’s not a public relationship. And by extension, in private, personal is not intrusive, nosy and directive. Personalization involves suggestion, nuance, assistance and possibilities. Balance what you know with what the customer needs and wants to listen to.

On the other hand, maybe I should get one of those carts. That way, at least someone will talk to me.

Bill Brohaugh
As managing editor, Bill Brohaugh is responsible for the day-to-day management and editorial for the COLLOQUY magazine and colloquy.com, the most comprehensive loyalty marketing web site in the world. In addition to writing many of the feature articles, Bill develops the editorial calendar, hires and manages outside writers and researchers and oversees print and online production. He also contributes to COLLOQUY's weekly email Market Alert and the COLLOQUYTalk series of white papers.


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