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September 10, 2003

Mayo and Beer Alone - $25,000

Spoke to Tom at Harris-Teeter customer service last night. Something, I forget what, had put the notion into my head that it would be interesting to see the purchase data my grocery store customer discount card had generated over the last decade or so. Why, the historical data on the beer purchases alone would be invaluable, at least to me. Sainted Wife viewed the whole idea with a great deal more disgust, viewing the idea more along the lines of "I really don't want to see the amount of money we've spent on useless crap over the years all added up in one place."

It turns out that it is indeed possible to see a printout of all the purchases, nicely organized and toted up, if I fill out a form, make a copy of my driver's license and fax them both back to the lovely people at Harris Teeter customer service.

The form itself is not available online, nor can it be emailed. It must be either faxed, or delivered via snail-mail.

No part of this, either request for data or the data itself, can be delivered or viewed electronically. "Privacy concerns," Tom informed me. "No wants this online."

Well, I do. Password protect it and make me register if you like, but I can't think of any reason the data shouldn't be available online. For myself I'm not all that concerned about individuals being able to view my grocery purchases over the web, though I can understand why some might have reservations about information like this being accessible. For example, what would the little woman think of all those condom purchases when she's been on the pill these last five years?

But, given the fact that the data is already available to the Harris Teeter marketing bots and god only knows how many other companies, I should think that the privacy goose has already been let out of the bag.

Besides, I think the Teeter is missing an opportunity. I was willing to pay for the information I'm apparently going to get for free, once I jump through the requisite hoops. I'm still willing to pay for an electronic version, and will beg for one in any case. A spreadsheet of the pertinent data would be much more manipulable, and thus more valuable, than hard copy.

When I met Frank of pseudorandom last year at the initial Triangle blog meetup, we talked about how personal information trails behind a person as they move around the electronic society, like a tail or shadow, and the ways in which the information within a person's data shadow could be utilized.

One such shadow, available once personal GPS becomes a more common technology, is a map of a person's travels over time, color coded by frequency of transit over a particular route. The next time a person thinks to themselves "How many times have I driven this way?" an answer could be provided, assuming they had the necessary software enabled.

The Harris Teeter information I'm after is another data tail, one that is already considered of value to Harris Teeter and its associated companies. If they think my personal information valuable, then without a doubt it would be to me, as well. I'm after it now for the sake of curiosity more than anything else, but there's no reason I couldn't prize a few valuable nuggets out of the data once it is in my possession. Especially if I manage to snag an electronic copy.

Like I said, I'd be willing to pay for digital; hopefully overwrought pleading will do in its stead.

I imagine there would be something of an outcry were Harris Teeter and the other data collecting grocery stores start offereing to sell collected personal information back to those who generated it. However, I think a convincing case could be made for "added value", especially if the data was massaged long enough to show a few trends.

This will almost certainly happen eventually. Due to the fierce competition in the industry, grocery stores operate on the slimmest of slim margins. The thought of a constant revenue stream, one immune to competion from the outside will prove irresistible, once the idea actually occurs to an exec high enough up in the food chain. Right now, as I was able to tell from my conversation with Tom, selling customers their own data is literally inconceivable, to Harris Teeter at least.

Which is too bad. At the very least, such data could be used as part of a "shop more efficiently" campaign. Regardless of how historical personal data is eventually marketed, I suspect many individuals would pay just for the chance to see their own information, treating as a kind of grocery diary if nothing else.

Deep down, and in many cases not so deep down, everyone is a narcissist to some degree or another. All a marketer really has to do is combine that quality with the "know thyself" imperative, and the sales will follow.

Posted by Bigwig at September 10, 2003 12:09 PM | TrackBack
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I don't mind them using my data to figure out how to sell even more stuff to me, but I'm damned if I'll pay to see my own data. Don't start giving them ideas - they make plenty of money from the data as it is.

Bad bunny! No carrots for you! One year!

Posted by: Michael at September 10, 2003 12:52 PM
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