Smart Shopping

// Posted by on 02/10/2013 (7:35 PM)


Mark Poster’s intriguing book Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines begins with a compelling introduction. Poster tells us that when googling the phrase “information please,” he came across the story of someone who grew up in a house with one of the first telephones in their neighborhood. The anonymous blogger  (named Paul) described how he  developed a rather close personal connection to the local telephone operator, Sally. Even though Sally and Paul never met face-to-face, they knew enough about each other to be acquaintances.

Today, many retailers are developing relationships with their customers–but without the customers’ knowledge.  Basically, stores such as Target are using customer loyalty cards, cell phones, credit cards, returns, online shopping and search engines and product registration forms to develop individual profiles for all of their shoppers. These profiles, based on purchasing habits, tailor coupons, e-mails, and the like to each individual shopper. Seems like a great idea, right?

Well, in terms of profitability, it is. This Fox Business video describes the success of the ever-expanding phenomenon of customer monitoring. The more a store knows about its customers, the effectively it can purchase inventory, hold sales, etc, leading to more efficient sale of products and a greater profit margin. The issue, however, lies in its morality. The classic story involves Target, who began sending e-mails advertising baby care products to the family e-mail account of a young woman who had bought a pregnancy test and other baby-related paraphernalia. Her father, who she hadn’t told about the pregnancy, was therefore second to find out about a very personal issue behind Target Corporation.

In Poster’s story, the telephone company’s relationship knowing Paul personally was presented as very quaint, even emotional. Would you feel alienated by companies possibly knowing more about you than your personal acquaintances? Do you mind being tracked? Do you expect it? Does profitability in this case outweigh the moral dilemmas that are presented?


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Andrew said...

I think that the issue of tracking will not become a problem until the general public deems it to be inappropriate. Nowadays, so many people skip reading the “Terms Of Service” and hurriedly click “I Accept” whenever an app asks to access an individuals personal information that it has become common to ignore the details. I, for one, make sure an app that uses my location or info is an app I WANT to be able to access that information. If all of the users come together to boycott or protest a company’s decision, that company has no choice but to listen due to the financial implications of a mass exodus of users or buyers. A good example is Instagram’s recent amendments to their Terms Of Service that allowed them to be able to use people’s photos without compensation. There was a giant uproar, and since then Instagram has apologized and re-amended their contract. I think that tools like tracking will continue to be implemented because it is both lucrative and because the public has not shown enough collective anger to NOT implement it.

// 02/11/2013 at 8:39 pm

Celia said...

I think that Target took the use of information a little too far, showing the potential downside of using customer data to specialize advertisements. In the world today, advertising is virtually impossible to turn off – everywhere you look, you’re basically looking at some sort of marketing scheme. While I think it makes sense, I feel al little concerned a consumer that I’m being exploited. I already go into Target and find plenty of things I “need,” which makes me nervous that targeted advertising would simply lead to further unnecessary purchases. On a larger scale, this type of advertising could encourage financially irresponsible behavior in children and adults alike that fall victim to the highly mechanized advertising techniques.

// 02/11/2013 at 9:53 pm