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April 19, 2022

The shopping cart


Sally King is shopping in Hal Mart Superstore in Portland. As always, her experience is made much easier if she follows the advice given to her by her shopping cart. Only this time, the shopping cart has one or two strange suggestions for her.

What on earth was her husband doing the previous weekend while she was in Florida?

Music by JuliusH Pixabay.

Image by rawpixel.com

This story first appeared in Speak Up!

Transcript

As Sally King drove into the parking lot of the shopping mall in Portland, Maine, the cameras at the entrance registered her number plates and in cyberspace her customer account profile turned on automatically. Which stores would she visit today?

 ***

On the other side of town, the software salesman began a presentation to Tony King – owner of a chain of department stores – and his management team.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our Customer Account Profile or CAP software is the most advanced customer tracking software on the market,” he began. “By using CAP you can analyze what shoppers buy when they visit your stores and use this information to deliver a unique shopping experience …”

***

Sally took a shopping cart from the line outside the Hal Mart Superstore. She typed her name and customer account number into the keypad and put on her headset.

“Hi! Sally, nice to see you again. These are some of the things you’ve bought the last few times …” said the friendly voice from the shopping cart program as she pushed it down aisle 1, past the fruit and vegetables.

***

“By analyzing what customers buy when they come to your stores, you not only improve your stock control you can also remind customers what they bought on their previous visits …” the salesman said.

***

In aisle 3 she stopped and got some cat food as the cart suggested. Tony hadn’t bought any last week while she was visiting her mother in Florida, even though she’d asked him to. He never used the shopping cart computer. All he needed was the account card, he said. Sally suspected he didn’t really understand how it all worked. Unlike her, he wasn’t very good with technology.

***

“… and based on what they bought in the past,  we can predict a lot about  what your customer is going to need in the future,” continued the salesman. “For example, believe it or not, with this software you can predict - with 90% accuracy – if your female customer is going to have a baby or not!”

“How the hell can you do that?” asked Tony.

“They or their partner buy a pregnancy test and three months later they start buying vitamin and mineral supplements and lots of body lotion. Sometimes we know the good news even before a customer’s family or colleagues!”  The salesman laughed pleasantly. Tony glanced across the table at his Personal Assistant, Anya. Their eyes met for a moment, then they both looked away again.

***

Sally stopped by the candy section in aisle 5, puzzled. According to the shopping cart someone in the family had bought a box of Belgian chocolate truffles here last week. It wasn’t the kind of thing Tony liked, so it must have been one of the kids. Expensive too!

***

 “But CAP isn’t just based on the information collected from your customer’s credit cards or customer account. We buy more data from other data collectors and add it to each customer’s profile,” said the salesman.  “Then you can see if they’ve bought a new house or automobile, where they’re going on holiday, if they’re getting married or divorced and even what they’re looking at in the internet. And this means the program can make them special customized offers while they’re actually in your store …”

***

“By the way, Sally,” said the shopping cart. “We have a 25% discount on Californian champagne this week, you can find it in aisle 22. And if you’d like to plan a romantic weekend away for two, we’ve got some great deals with our partner hotels in New England. Press one on the keyboard if you’d like us to mail you some brochures…”

Sally pressed the pause button on the keypad and wheeled her cart over to the customer service desk.

“Are you having any problems with the shopping cart program today?” she asked. “It’s being kind of weird.”

“No, ma’am,” said the assistant. “I haven’t heard anything from the IT department this morning.”

“Humph,” thought Sally as she turned the program back on and pushed the cart towards the household goods section in aisle 14. “Tony and I haven’t had a romantic weekend for more than ten years…”

***

“Well,” said Tony. “CAP sounds amazing. But do we need something this sophisticated for our stores? I mean we track our customers already to a certain extent.”

“Yes, sir, and that’s why you should think about upgrading your technology now. Many of your competitors in Portland are already using CAP to analyze spending profiles. Do you want to lose customers to them?”

***

Sally’s cell-phone rang. It was Billy. She could hear her other son Jimmy in the background.

“Mom? Can you buy us some more Fruit Loops? Dad didn’t get any last week!”

“Well, listen to me young man,” said Sally. “You boys and Dad didn’t do a very good job shopping last week, did you?”

“Dad went on his own. He said it would take twice as long with us…”

***

“What other stores use this technology?” asked Tony.

“Well, I shouldn’t really say, but – between you and me, sir – Boot Locker, US T-Shirts, Hal Mart Superstores …”

Tony King suddenly felt worried.

***

Sally stood in aisle 14, unable to believe what the shopping cart had just told her. She hadn’t needed a pregnancy test for more than five years, so why had Tony bought one last week? She took a deep breath and considered what to do.

“Don’t forget Sally,” said the friendly voice in her ear again. “The hunting season starts in two weeks in Maine. If you want to stock up on ammunition or buy a new gun, we have a 10% discount for all licensed gun owners. Just head over to aisle 19 and you’ll be sure to be able to satisfy all your shooting requirements.”

Of course! The gun department at Hal Mart was well-known for its excellent prices. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? And pushing her shopping cart ahead of her, Sally set off towards aisle 19.