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The Price Is Right—But Just for You...

A fascinating piece in the New York Times a few days ago, titled "Shopper Alert: Price May Drop for You Alone." It talks about the growing phenomenon of grocery stores targeting consumers with specific promotions based on increasingly detailed behavior and lifestyle data. For example, someone who just purchased diapers might be presented with an offer for discounted baby formula or food pegged to the age of her child, which the marketer has logged.

I guess this is harbinger of either a dystopia of lost personal liberty or a brave new world of greater convenience and lifestyle support depending on your perspective. (It is also a great opportunity for those who like to play the system for all it's worth. One woman mentioned in the article has already figured out that she can get more discounts on coffee if she alternates her purchasing between several brands rather than being loyal to one—a loophole I'm sure will be patched up at some point, but meanwhile…).

To me, this is not as scary as it may be to some. If marketers want to get some relatively innocuous information about my purchasing and lifestyle habits, I'm not going to get worked up over it. It's less personal information than millions post everyday on their Facebook pages. And if they then want to send discounts my way to nudge me in the direction I was already heading, who am I to say no.

For onsite foodservice operators, of course, the whole phenomenon of ever-more-intricate target marketing is just a new challenge to deal with. We've already run some pieces on how the emerging social media technology such as Facebook's "Deals" might impact marketing, especially in the college segment where these emergent trends are most resonant. Using the approach detailed in the Times article, a college foodservice operator might fire off discount offers to students based on class schedules (and thus anticipated proximity to specific retail outlets at specific times of the day) and combine that with purchase history information for maximum impact—"Hey dude, we know you had to wake up early for an 8 a.m. class today and haven't had a break all morning til now. Well, you're about to walk past our coffee bar, so how does a nice large mocha (like the ones you usually get) sound—and we'll knock 50% off the price of a breakfast pastry if you buy that with the coffee?"

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