I went to the local Stop and Shop to buy groceries this morning, passing on the opportunity to use the hand-held scanner about which I’ve blogged already. Preserving my privacy, remember? When I got to the checkout I was happy to find an open line with both a cashier and a bagger. As I always do, I asked the cashier to use his card — in Massachusetts, supermarkets are required to give you the “loyalty card” price if you ask for it. He acknowledged my request and scanned the groceries. I paid my $57.17 by credit card. As I was starting to wheel my cart away, I checked the register tape and discover that nothing had been discounted. (Why is it that they make you verify the total and complete the transaction BEFORE showing you their account of what you’re buying?)
I complained, and the cashier was surprised and apologetic — plainly he’d just neglected to do it. (When I made my request, though he did hear it, he was in the middle of a conversation with the bagger about whether McDonald’s might have been the source of his indigestion.) By now he’d already started scanning the next customer’s order.
He directed me to the service desk, staffed by two teenagers. I explained my problem, and one of them took the register tape, tore something off the bottom, and gave me back the rest. He then scanned or punched something into his computer and handed me $4.41 in cash. It took only a few seconds.
Now what strikes me about this is that the entire record of my purchase was accessible at the service desk. There are many good reasons for retaining those records — to prevent me from “returning” the same purchase multiple times, for example, the record can be updated to show when an item is returned. And of course a great deal of the analytical value of the data doesn’t depend on knowing my identity. But the instant rebate of exactly $4.41 reminds me how disaggregated the scanner data remains — probably forever.
And by the way — in the realm of really, truly watching you in stores — some of those video displays that show ads now have tiny, hidden cameras and enough processing smarts to tell whether you’re black or white, male or female — and to adjust the ads you are shown accordingly!