Everything I say here today will be made obsolete by technology tomorrow," said Glen Griffiths of McNeil Laboratories recently. I agree. Technology can change the world.
For example, telecommunications costs are being reduced and will continue to go down. If they go down significantly, the whole face of data base marketing will change. Smaller computers in the stores would send information frequently, or instantaneously, to a master data base. A reward or incentive would be transmitted back instantaneously to specific customers who exhibit specific behavior with specific demographic or lifestyle characteristics, without the cost and delay of mailing incentives.
What if smart cards were cheaper? Everyone would have one, and all information could be stored on it -- our demographics, our purchases, our health information, insurance, banking, etc., etc. Prototypes of these were developed years ago, but the cost hasn't yet come down enough to make them practical. But if telecommunications costs are low enough, do we need smart cards?
The code on our products is a different example. The universal product code is ubiquitous in our industry, and the majority of grocery stores in the United States read it. In many ways, however, the UPC is obsolete. It's not big enough to distinguish coupons distributed in-store from those distributed out-of-store, so codes for in-store coupon distribution are being changed to the European version of UPCs, EAN Code 99. It's not big enough to contain the information needed to capture data on perishable products, so the industry is looking to add a Code 128 for that purpose. It's not big enough to facilitate electronic coupon clearing, because offer codes and expiration dates are needed, so a Code 128 is being added for coupons.
So what if an entire new code and the devices to read it were developed? UPS is using one of these now, called a Maxicode. It can hold more than 10 times the data of a UPC, and takes up a tenth of its space. How would that affect the world we live in, and the data we collect?
What if someone comes up with cost-effective, efficient bio-recognition techniques like fingerprint identification? Consumers wouldn't have to show courtesy cards for checks, remember PINs for debit transactions, or sign for credit cards. But then, really, why would we need any cards at all? We could just put our finger on a reader, and indicate what type of payment we want to make (voice recognition would fit here). But if we had voice recognition, would we even need the fingerprint? Kiosks are slow, and they take up too much space. Someone could develop really small kiosks that hang on a wall instead of sitting on the floor. If the software on their small chips (would there be chips?) were fast enough that consumers don't have to wait on line to use them, kiosks might become a major part of the shopping experience.
To paraphrase a quote: The future probably won't be what it used to be. I look forward to helping you keep up to date on it in this new year.