Is Big Brother in Shopping Carts

Oct 29, 2002
George Anderson

By George Anderson

New shopping cart technology proves conclusively that just because your paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t watching you, say consumer groups and retail trade industry organizations.

CNET has reported that Safeway is testing shopping carts with touch screens and scanners in two of its stores. The carts track a shopper’s path through the store and displays personalized ads based on their previous shopping history and their location within the store.

“I think the average shopper would be creeped out by being tracked around the store. It’s a disturbing thought — being treated like a lab rat,” said Katherine Albrecht, founder of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.

Consumer privacy groups aren’t the only ones expressing reservations about the technology being tested by Safeway. Don Gilbert, senior vice president of information technology at the National Retail Federation said, “Consumers don’t want to be targeted as an individuals. You don’t want the stores to know that you buy a case of beer every night.”

Safeway sees the shopping carts as benefiting both the consumer and the retailer. “As with Club Cards, it’s an added convenience for customers,” said David Bowlby a Safeway spokesman. “We’re constantly enhancing the customer shopping experience and making it more convenient for them.”

Moderator’s Comment: Do consumers want to be marketed
to (aka targeted) as individuals?

There are caveats, of course, such as confidentiality
of information. We believe, however, that most American consumers are willing
to share information about their shopping habits if it will lead to personalized

Consumers understand that retailers are hoping that discounts
and other offers will actually increase the amount of money spent. We believe
that most consumers will show the proper restraint based on their personal priorities
and financial situation.
Anderson – Moderator

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