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Supermarket Rewards In Boston: What Does It All Mean, Mr. Natural?

[Editor's Note: today's post is by R. Michelle Green, a frequent guest author. She is the Principal for her company, Client Solutions, and a combination geek girl, personal organizer, and career coach. Michelle helps others improve their use of technology in their personal or professional life. In a business world focused on data mining and the tracking of consumers, her post discusses a very interesting program change by a retailer.]

By R. Michelle Green

Shaw’s and Star Markets have discontinued their rewards program as of last Friday June 28th, despite the fact that the web site is still set up to enroll customers. The third largest supermarket chain in New England says all customers should benefit from low prices, and not just some. Several articles focused on the customers' point-of-view, how they feel about it.

While I should have learned about it with Friday’s news, I learned about it Wednesday when I offered my key chain card for groceries. Ok, no problem, programs come and go. But my ears pricked up when the check out lady said, if you turn in your card, you get a Coca-Cola 12-pack for $.99. I believe she talked the couple in front of me into getting a discount on a bag of ice, again for turning in the card. Why are we actively being incented to turn the cards in?

Maybe I’m just too cynical – but wouldn’t it have been just as easy to say – those don’t work anymore? The check-out lady’s take on the decision to cancel the program – less trouble at checkout. Everyone had a sob story about where their card was and could the clerk help?

The Boston Globe quoted a Shaw's spokesperson:

“Our internal processes have become more sophisticated... Tracking individual shopping habits isn’t as critical to our overall strategy.”

I don’t believe that they’ve suddenly lost interest in tracking shopping habits. I could believe that the common use of manager- or clerk-cards, to assist shoppers without their loyalty cards, may have clouded or diluted the data to the point of minimal utility. And it’s possible that Coca Cola and/or ice is so cheap that it’s serving as a loss leader. But why collect the card? Maybe it’s clearing the wallet and the key chain for a new one? Should I just take a chill pill, and listen to Mr. Natural?

What do you think?


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The skeptic in me believes that the supermarket chain will use other technologies to track and analyze shoppers' purchases. Some options that come to my mind:
1. Free WiFi hotspots in all stores
2. Video surveillance enhanced with the newer facial recognition
3. Shopping carts outfitted with tablets that read shoppers' cart contents (RFID)

Any of these options could allow a retail store to track all shoppers browsing patterns (e.g., what you looked at in the store, and what store isles you visited) and the items ultimately purchased -- activities a loyalty card program couldn't do.

If you want to learn more about discrete facial recognition technologies in stores:

The 5 ways retail stores spy on their shoppers:

An upcoming blog post will discuss option #3.



The blog post about a market test of shopping carts outfitted with tablet computers:



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