Don’t Look Now: That Shelf of Snacks is Watching You
It is a manufacturer’s dream, a way to get inside the minds of shoppers and even direct them, while they’re in a store, to buy specific products.
Mondelez International is planning to introduce a high-tech grocery shelf called “Smart Shelf,” outfitted with sensors that will track customers perusing packages of Oreos and Ritz crackers, and other Kraft products, in order to create a profile of a potential shopper.
What could be called a surveillance shelf (it can scan facial features, including your bone structure) uses motion-tracking technology provided via Microsoft’s Kinnect controller. Mondelez’s plan is that it will
…help funnel more of the right products to the right consumers, and even convince undecideds to commit to an impulse buy by offering well-timed in-store commercials or coupons when the embedded weight sensor learns they’ve picked up an item. The move is almost certain to make it more difficult to resist junk foods.
While Smart Shelf will not store a picture of your face, it’s hard not to feel a bit unnerved at the thought of a “stealth shelf” following your every movement as you distractedly look over an aisle of food products.
For its part, Mondelez characterizes the Smart Shelf as a way to provide people with more of the products that they, whether they know it or not, want. The technology will enable Mondelez to ”engage and influence the purchase decision by delivering a targeted shopper experience,” a spokeswoman tells ABC — as it were, to take the control of deciding what to buy out of consumers’ (our) hands, and minds, and let the companies make those decisions for us.
As Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says, “What need do they think they’re filling?”
Technology like Smart Shelf could have some benefits if used to help shoppers choose healthier foods. “Imagine if the produce aisle starts talking about the beta carotene in carrots,” the Washington Post points out. Or if the bread aisle delivered a little reminder about all the additional nutrients in whole wheat bread as you’re reaching for some fluffy white loaf.
Tracking technologies like Smart Shelf makes CCTV cameras seem almost old-fashioned. Their advantages for companies like Mondelez are only too evident. As developers seek ways to implant computers in anything from tea kettles to diapers, it seems that there’s no object that is not a candidate for the “internet of Things.”
Smart Shelf is, in fact, not the first such technology that manufacturers have placed in stores to keep a digital eye on what customers are up to. Last year, Almax introduced the EyeSee Mannequin, a humanesque device with cameras and microphones that can send data not only to whoever runs the store but also to different companies.
Thanks to Smart Shelf, Mondelez should be added to the list of companies watching you more than the NSA already is. The company formerly known as Kraft is, it seems, very crafty indeed.
Photo via Thinkstock