“Minority Report” Retail is Almost Here

In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report, the future of retail and advertising was reflected as personalized messages delivered to each individual based on a scan of their eye. A recent article in Business Week titled Point-of-Sale Advertising Goes High Tech discusses new technology already being used and/or tested around the world that caused some flashbacks

Before we get to scanning irises, the article highlights a more simple transactional-based digital solution that illustrates the concept of “right message, right person, right time”. The example was Aroma Espresso Bars.

According to Business Week, “When you order a morning coffee at a cafe owned by Israel-based Aroma Espresso Bars, an image of a croissant may suddenly appear on a digital display next to the cash register. Stop by for a sandwich or salad later in the day, and the display could flash a picture of a suggested beverage.

Aroma Espresso says sales of desserts and drinks featured on the screens have increased as much as 68% in outlets where it has installed the display systems, starting about a year ago.”

Tools like this take effective behavioral targeting concepts previously only executable online, and bring them into brick-and-mortar retail. An exciting time in the convergence of the digital and retail worlds.

Now, onto the Minority Report part. Beyond tracking active behavior, technology is now allowing retailers to scan shoppers passively to anticipate appropriate messages or offers. The article states, “Merchants can now, for instance, install tiny cameras that scan shoppers’ faces to determine their sex, race, and approximate age, and then flash appropriately targeted ads.” While this isn’t in wide spread use, they are “discreetly testing” them in some retailers.

The discretion is probably warranted. In a world where people already feel overwhelmed by the amount of advertising they are exposed to as well as have serious concerns about their privacy, technology like this would certainly be controversial. While as marketers, we are simply trying to be more timely and relevant to better serve consumer needs(and increase efficiency), consumers tend to feel threatened by the fact that marketers “know too much” about them.

So the question is, while consumers are rapidly adapting new technologies to better entertain themselves, how do we make them feel comfortable about these brave new frontiers for marketers and retailers?

Images from businessweek.com