Shelves that gather information

In a recent interview, I questioned the future of marketing as we know it. Less creativity and more math, I said. In fact, I still think those in charge of making a product attractive so that someone will buy it should take into account not just the taste of the customer, but also that of the customer’s refrigerator. What we saw in the movieMinority report is just around the corner: marketing technology ready to track the age and gender of their customers as they pass by. In fact, in the giant supermarket chains like Mondelez, there are already shelves equipped with Microsoft Kinect sensors (popularized by their use in gaming) that can determine the age and gender of the potential buyers walking in front of them.

I believe that online capabilities based on portable devices will be the ones to give us the answer in the future. Whoever will want to sell anything online will have to “convince” a machine. Let’s say that a fridge runs out of cheese, and the fridge itself is in charge of ordering it online; one day this selection will be based on technical or substantial criteria from which software can make decisions. Big-data, algorithms, previous experiences or whatever will determine that the one who buys your cheese won’t be a human, but a machine trapped in its owner’s mobile device.

Despite the fact that Mondelez assures us they that they don’t plan to store the data they gather on individuals, they are starting to manage the aggregated information obtained from cross-referencing all the individual records, hence improving their marketing campaigns, tailoring them to better address specific populations. It’s still no more than a market study, but with a solid change from the established model. It’s clear these sensors are just the tip of the iceberg of something much more complex that surely will interact with smartphones and all sorts of devices in the future. Smart watches, or Google glasses could be the ideal devices to send reports to a platform like the one Mondelez is already setting up in its stores.

It’s analog big data ready to take on the tiniest details. A sensor capable of measuring times and product selections according to their locations, tracking lines of sight and coming up with sophisticated charts on discarded products which will determine new aspects of company marketing.

There are examples that can provide details and give us an idea of the way things are headed — social shopping, group buying or comparison shopping engines, among other things — but I think all that is still light-years away from what’s coming. They are just the edges of something much more transverse and disruptive. It will have to do with the global talent fostered in that environment, with connected ideas that will allow society to get better in its habits of consumption, and will stimulate society to be more intelligent. Those changes will come from a collective marketing intelligence, and through data management systems never seen before. It will make big data look like a preschool toy. Nothing will remain as it is today; the future has already begun.

Let’s imagine a customer picks up an object (the sensor detects which it is) but after some time (the sensor detects how long), puts it back on the shelves. Finally they choose another or simply move on to a different product (the sensor detects that as well). A whole world of data analysis begins at that instant. If on top of that, the customer’s smartphone is open to share information in exchange for receiving deals or something similar, the business will be able to know the customer’s spending patterns and overall tastes. It’s an endless equation but tremendously efficient.