When it comes to mobile technology, just how “personal” must things get before enough is enough?
When will people collectively draw a line in the sand and say, “I want no further connection between me and technology”? My feeling is that line will continue to move, just slightly in front of us. I think that we collectively do not want to put the brakes on our digital involvement.
At this moment in time, we are watching the computer users of the world – who recently said goodbye to their bulky desktop computers – pull the plug on their laptops, to embrace the next generation of mobile devices. These attach to or at travel with your body with very little effort. They have become the essential new connection point between our individual selves and the collective digital tribe to which we all want to belong.
In the face of this collective fascination, there is paradoxically a sense of fear among many that innovations in technology may have become too intrusive. Beacon sensors are an example of this.
Beacons are designed to notice when specific customers enter a store. Beacon technology allows the store’s customer management system to retrieve customer shopping preferences from the database and load up sales assistants’ tablets with the data that will help deliver a thoroughly satisfying personal shopping experience. The system can also welcome customers by name and provide discounts and other incentives, just for entering the store.
Some people, upon hearing this for the first time, find it to be intrusive or downright creepy, especially when the beacons are placed inside store mannequins. There is something dystopian about that, at least as a first reaction.
As with so much of the mobile economy, these developments deliver unprecedented levels of convenience. Any shopper who has rebuffed a sales associate’s offer to help with the phrase, “no thanks, just browsing,” or who has wandered the aisles of a big-box store looking for some guidance, will quickly appreciate the accessibility of an unobtrusive yet directly useful assistant.
The sharing of the data that makes beacon technology work is purely voluntary. Just like the privacy settings on your phone and social media accounts, digital loyalty programs are there to be used if you choose. If you don't want to play, then don't play.
This is a key concept to consider, when looking at the larger notion of the "Uber-ization of Retail," the subject of an article recently published in Internet Retailer. Uber is a crowd-sourced approach to personal transport that takes on the traditional taxicab industry by eliminating the middleman and communicating directly with the consumer – if, and only if, the consumer chooses to use Uber. There are plenty of other choices of transport always available.
Obviously, the implications of "Uber-ization" go well beyond taxi services. They usher in a newly personal shopping experience in which customers leverage the power of their own data to enjoy more tailored, satisfactory events.
The fear of intrusive data is a perfectly normal human response, but it is often followed by acceptance, which then becomes enthusiasm. The smartphone is a perfect example of this. For most consumers, its versatility and convenience vastly eclipse any personal privacy issues initially felt about the phone's presence on a cellular network. Consumers have, in large measure, willingly bypassed the idea that their every move is trackable and photographable, in exchange for the irresistible comfort and versatility of their smart device.
The Uber-ization of retail is about the further democratization of consumerism, in which the individual enjoys greater personal leverage, and receives a heightened degree of tailored service, all on one’s own terms.
Protecting personal data is a skill that consumers can take upon themselves to learn and perfect – a form of digital literacy in which privacy and choice are the key building blocks of their own experience. These skills need to be learned and practiced – just like using an ATM or giving out credit card numbers over the phone. These are skills and choices that we as individuals own. We allow the data to be released in order to reap rewards and convenience. That is the currency of modern commerce – the Uber-ization of a centuries-old practice.
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