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Hellmann's Recipe Shopping Carts. A Good Program?

Hellmann's logo Recently, an interactive agency posted an article about the new Hellmann's Recipe Cart used in a grocery store in Brazil. You can follow the link and watch the video about the new shopping carts. (The video is also available on Youtube.) The brand outfitted shopping carts in a grocery store with mobile tablet computers that read the RFID tags (e.g., radio frequency) on grocery items and suggested recipes using Hellmann's brand products. Shoppers can interact with the tablet's screen to browse and select recipes.

Reportedly, the brand partnered with the grocery store and also installed software in the store's cashier machines. Essentially, the new shopping carts:

  • Read RFID tags on items in the shopper's carts,
  • Read RFID tags on nearby grocery items as shoppers walked by,
  • Tracked shoppers' paths within the store, and made suggestions about where in the store shoppers could find recipe items, and
  • Printed requested recipes on shopper's store receipts

The video and news stories did not discuss what data was collected and transmitted by the new software installed in the cashier machines, nor whether the shoppers were given policy information about the new devices. I could not find any more data about the recipe carts at either the Hellmann's website or the Unilever website, its parent company.

The video and articles cited a 44% increase in sales of Hellmann's products. So, one can assume the data collection and tracking is rather extensive: grocery items purchased, grocery items passed/viewed, preferred shopping paths in the store, item sizes, item prices, shopping dates, coupons used and amounts, payment method, receipt amounts, and perhaps more.

A check of the agency's Twitter stream showed mostly positive comments about the Hellmann's Recipe Carts. People seemed focused on the new technology and not the privacy or data collection aspects:

Twitter comments about Hellmann's Recipe Carts

When I see new technology about this, several questions come to my mind. Early on, many mobile app developers failed to provide consumers with usage and privacy policies. The RFID technology has its own set of privacy issues. So, some questions that must be answered before one can judge this recipe cart program a success or not:

  1. What has Hellmann's done to deserve collecting data about everything in shoppers' carts? To me, the convenience of serving up recipes is not enough to justify Hellmann's knowing everything else I have purchased. Maybe you think it is sufficient justification, but I don't. In today's big-box supermarkets, shoppers can buy a variety of items, including healthcare and medications. Is Hellmann's entitled to this, too? I think not. Also, it is a fair assumption (in the absence of an explicit privacy policy otherwise) that the software in the cashiers' registers transmits data about shoppers' entire purchases, amounts spent, and the recipes printed. This way, Hellmann's learns which recipes are most popular, which Hellmann's products are most popular, and the types/brands of other products used in recipes. If I were a marketer at Hellmann's (or at their interactive agency), I'd want this level of detail so Hellmann's can evaluate the program, segment users, and develop more recipes.
  2. Did the brand or the grocery store present policies to shoppers informing them of the program's usage, privacy, and data collection policies? The above list includes extensive data collection. Just like mobile apps, both usage terms and privacy policies are important here, too. Consumers need to know what data is collected, how long it is retailed, how it is protected, and what other companies the collected data is shared with.
  3. Did the grocery store and brand comply with any privacy policies provided to shoppers? If shoppers were not provided with privacy policies, I would want to know why.
  4. Did the brand allow shoppers to not participate, or were the new carts forced upon all shoppers? Remember, the new software was installed in the cashier machines. Also, some people may not eat mayonnaise or simply prefer and use other brands (e.g., generic, organic).
  5. Was the program design based upon opt-in (e.g., shoppers could choose to participate) or opt-out (e.g., everyone is automatically included and given the new carts)? Did the grocery store provide shoppers who didn't want to participate with standard carts, or could the mobile recipe devices be disabled or turned off? Shoppers should have a choice.
  6. What about scanning of other RFID-enabled items in or near shoppers' carts? Many shoppers place their purses or backpacks in their shopping carts. Other RFID-enabled items include credit cards, passports, and other documents. Did the tablets in the Hellmann's Recipe Carts also read these items? If not, what verification is there that the carts didn't read these other items?
  7. What methods does the grocery store use to protect the data security of the new shopping carts? History is littered with multiple data breaches where identity thieves and criminals hacked cashiers' registers or pin-pads in supermarkets; or the unencrypted wireless transmissions by supermarkets.

Of course, brands and retail store should explore new technologies like this. Some are already including mannequins outfitted with video recording technologies to enable tracking via facial recognition. My points are that retailers should: a) keep consumers and shoppers in charge of their information, b) inform shoppers beforehand of the usage and privacy policies, and c) design programs based upon opt-in. Only after knowing all the answers to the above questions can one judge a program like this a success or not.

What are your opinions of the Hellmann's Recipe Carts?


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