Skip

Some Shoppers Are More Equal Than Others
August 10, 2012 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Supermarkets are attempting to customize prices for different shoppers. At a Safeway in Denver, a 24-pack of Refreshe bottled water costs $2.71 for Jennie Sanford, a project manager. For Emily Vanek, a blogger, the price is $3.69.

The difference? The vast shopping data Safeway maintains on both women through its loyalty card program. Ms. Sanford has a history of buying Refreshe brand products, but not its bottled water, while Ms. Vanek, a Smartwater partisan, said she was unlikely to try Refreshe.

So Ms. Sanford gets the nudge to put another Refreshe product into her grocery cart, with the hope that she will keep buying it, and increase the company’s sales of bottled water. A Safeway Web site shows her the lower price, which is applied when she swipes her loyalty card at checkout.
posted by modernnomad (164 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The blogger will just have Refreshe send her a case for free for review anyways.
posted by quodlibet at 8:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Hoping to improve razor-thin profit margins, they are creating specific offers and prices, based on shoppers’ behaviors, that could encourage them to spend more: a bigger box of Tide and bologna...

I don't care how cheap it is, I don't want to eat Tide and bologna.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 8:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [40 favorites]


Aaaaaand this is why I hate Shaw's.
posted by maryr at 8:45 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tide and bologna.

Blow bubbles while you eat your sandwich! I'd pay extra money for that.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:46 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


This hits a lot of my outrage buttons.

Stores tracking purchases: gross.
Stores charging different prices to different people: gross and potentially illegal.
People willing to trade their privacy for a $0.98 difference in bottled water: sad.
People paying almost 4 dollars for water: horrifying.
posted by gauche at 8:47 AM on August 10, 2012 [86 favorites]


do I stop blogging?
posted by Postroad at 8:47 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Some supermarkets in South Africa have started replacing their prices on the shelves with small LCD screens. I've been told that they use this to set different pricing depending on the time of day (and perhaps other factors). Doesn't seem like progress to me.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 8:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


...meanwhile, Mark Kraft goes to the Mexican grocers in the Mission district, where he buys real food, skips the processed stuff, and pays only 20 cents a lb. for oranges, 25 cents a lb. for bananas, plums, and tomatoes, 25 cents each for artichokes, and considers himself very fortunate to not be charged about six times as much for Safeway's "sale" prices.
posted by markkraft at 8:49 AM on August 10, 2012 [41 favorites]


This makes me unreasonably angry. The one good thing about large chains is that they basically removed discrimination from retail: skin color, religion, sexuality, politics--whatever, man, who cares. Everyone is the same at Wal Mart or any big mart (with caveats for special card discounts, coupons, etc.).

Was the same, I guess.
posted by jsturgill at 8:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


The worst part of this is that the rich will end up paying less! Since they have more disposable income, brands will compete harder to earn their loyalty, and offer them lower and lower prices.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [26 favorites]


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a frustrated shopper yelling "JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH IT FUCKING COSTS!", forever.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 8:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [70 favorites]


Seems like an idea that could easily backfire. It's one thing if the shoppers in question actually went to the website, saw the deals, and then it influenced them to buy one brand or the other -- that's what the store is hoping for.

But I think it's more likely that they'll just go to the store, buy whatever they were planning on buying, and then the items will ring up at strange prices for no particularly apparent reason. Which might not be anything more than a pleasant surprise for the first few times, until one of them is standing right behind the other in the checkout, and notices that they're paying a difference price for the same item. People really tend to hate that, and it won't have any convenient explanation. People accept that someone might get a better deal than them, if they're using coupons or a loyalty card or something ... but if there's no obvious reason for it, they're going to assume it's capriciousness on the part of the store, and generally that they're getting "ripped off." And Americans, in general, really hate and jump very quickly to that conclusion, in my experience.

The smart way to implement this would be to only give the discounted pricing to shoppers who have actually gone to the website and taken some sort of action -- clicked on a 'virtual coupon' or something similar. That way, when they get a deal in the store and the person behind them doesn't, there will be some explanation for it besides price-gouging.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:51 AM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Big deal. Target give me 5% off when I use my Target card. Same diff.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I predict big discrimination class action lawsuits.
posted by Forktine at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Doesn't seem like progress to me.

This isn't about progress for you, citizen Shopper #22866754201. Now buy something and move along.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


If big stores start implementing this, I will be traveling into the nearest city (only about 10 minutes from me) and purchasing from the Asian & Mexican grocers. I prefer to do it anyway, just never seem to get out there.
posted by Malice at 8:53 AM on August 10, 2012


Also note... Safeway is in the business of offering discounts for branded products.

Not food, mind you. Branded, manufactured, packaged products. And yet, you're supposedly going there to find healthy food to eat... which rarely have the kind of sales you see there for manufactured products, because the manufacturer usually offers most of the kickback. And if the produce costs too much, keep in mind that it's not profitable for them to undercut their products with actual food.

And people shop there why, again?!
posted by markkraft at 8:56 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's grant that charging different prices to different people is a misuse of the information. I'm not sure it is, but let's set that aside. Why is it inherently bad for a store to track purchases? Information can be misused, sure, but it can also be used to improve business (different from, "to increase profit").
posted by cribcage at 8:56 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stores charging different prices to different people: gross and potentially illegal.

Not really sure how. Safeway isn't a state actor, and there's no discrimination on the basis of race.

The worst part of this is that the rich will end up paying less!

That's already true for a lot of things. Some of it's just that buying more is almost always cheaper, per unit, than buying less, but that it requires more of an outlay up front. The rich can do this, because they can afford to pay those outlays and because they can usually afford to store more stuff at any given time than poor people can. My parents have two refrigerators and a freezer. I have whatever fridge my landlord sticks in my apartment. Ergo, they shop at Sam's and Costco and I don't, because I have absolutely nowhere to stick a twelve-pack of just about anything, let alone more than one ten-pound bag of frozen food.

But it's also true in credit situations. If you have good credit, you have money, so you will get preferential terms on loans and credit transactions. That's always been true, and in a sense it's the entire point. If you don't have money, the odds that you won't pay me back are more than if you did, so I'm going to charge you more interest to cover that risk.

That's just two examples. But the idea that being poor is expensive is pretty axiomatic.
posted by valkyryn at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


“If our consumer information is right, personalization is really a consumer desire right now, not so much a consumer fear,” said Michael R. Minasi, president for marketing at Safeway.

LOL.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do I get the feeling the way this will eventually shake out is that Safeway will eventually charge you a tiny bit more on products they know you always buy.

BECAUSE I'M CYNICAL, THAT'S WHY!
posted by mazola at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Awful as this sounds, it is not substantially different from the coupons they print on the back of your receipt, which are customized to whatever information they have about that transaction, or as it happens, you if you used identifying information during the purchase.

That's not to say it doesn't push all kinds of awful buttons with me, just that it's not different.

(Well, one difference is that the coupons are selected by the store while your future purchases are selected by you, so the breadth of offered discount is dynamic rather than fixed... but, y'know.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:59 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sighing like the old man that I'm fast becoming, may I say that one of the features of this modern American life that I hate the most is the ever-increasing need to game the system for absolutely every damn thing?
posted by tyllwin at 8:59 AM on August 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


Safeway's been doing this for a while; around here, they call it "Just For U". There's an app for iPhone (and presumably for Android as well) that ties into your Safeway club card number. You can browse and accept special offers from the app, which are then automatically loaded onto your card so you see the new price at checkout.

It kinda creeped me out a little at first, but I figure they're already data-mining the shit out of me already, heck every store with a "club card" program is. So it's either, get data-mined, or get data-mined and save money on groceries while doing it. It's been an average of about 15% savings for me. Still, it's fun to swap cards with a friend for a while (I used to do this all the time with one of my friends who was a single mom) and go from buying beer and Doritos to tampons and baby formula, just to fuck with 'em a little.

Shortly after I'd started using the program, the person behind me bought the same dozen eggs as me and noticed the price difference. The cashier explained that I'd signed up for the free program, and gave the customer a brochure. To be fair, there are signs all over the store advertising it, and when Safeway rolled out the program, for a good three weeks or so they had tables set up at both entrances with laptops and staff to encourage people to sign up. So it's not like regular shoppers are at all caught by surprise (except perhaps feigned surprise). I don't mind. Cheaper groceries are nice.

Maybe they'll get nailed by some sort of lawsuit but I really don't see how, anyone can sign up for the program, and it's free. If you want to be an ass about it and make everyone behind you wait, they'll even sign you up for a club card and Just For U right there in line. What you're trading is more detailed information about your buying habits for lower prices. For some people, that's a worthwhile trade; for others, it's not. But no one is being discriminated against, except perhaps the people who think they are entitled to the lower prices without signing up for the program. But buyer loyalty programs have been around for decades, it's not like this practice is news to anyone.
posted by xedrik at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Most people's argument in favor of "loyalty" cards is: "But you really save a lot of money." I wonder if any tracking studies have been done that prove or disprove this. The linked article makes me want to throw my "loyalty" card in the trash, but ... you really save a lot of money.
posted by scratch at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2012


Merchants charged different customers different prices for thousands of years, I think the idea that everyone pays the same rate at the supermarket is rather modern.

This time around they won't bother to haggle with you.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Information can be misused, sure, but it can also be used to improve business (different from, "to increase profit").

Really?

We have, literally, decades worth of data showing the attitude of big corporations in this country. Quarterly profits come before everything. Sure, they could use the info to improve their business - but what do you think the odds are that that is their motivation?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone else notice that the Metafilter signup fee is $5.05 now? I swear it was only $4.95 last time I checked with my sockpuppet.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:02 AM on August 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Most people's argument in favor of "loyalty" cards is: "But you really save a lot of money."

Well, you save the store a lot of money by enabling them to rediuce teh number of customers they have to offer the discount to.
posted by tyllwin at 9:03 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Awful as this sounds, it is not substantially different from the coupons they print on the back of your receipt, which are customized to whatever information they have about that transaction, or as it happens, you if you used identifying information during the purchase.

Yep. This has already been going on in a different form with the Catalina coupons for years now (at least in my area, the coupons are not printed on the back of the receipt, they spit out of a different machine at checkout). If I use my "preferred" card at checkout, they know what purchases I've made in the past, and I routinely get coupons for things I buy normally or for their competing brands. So, in a way, since I've bought Morningstar products in the past, I get a coupon for them when I check out, which makes them cheaper for me than for other people.
posted by LionIndex at 9:03 AM on August 10, 2012


BECAUSE I'M CYNICAL, THAT'S WHY!

BECAUSE I'M REALISTIC, THAT'S WHY!


ftfy.
posted by scratch at 9:04 AM on August 10, 2012


valkyryn: "That's just two examples. But the idea that being poor is expensive is pretty axiomatic."

Totally get that. I'm just frustrated to see another way for it to be demonstrated pop up.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:05 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do I get the feeling the way this will eventually shake out is that Safeway will eventually charge you a tiny bit more on products they know you always buy.

Does it matter? Food prices, like gasoline, are already incredibly dynamic. Not just items going on and off sale, but the "regular" prices are always changing. Especially dairy and meat products. What does it matter if the dozen eggs is $2.99 or $3.19 or $2.89; if it's a fair price to you, you'll buy it. If you don't think it's a fair price, you won't. You're still free to shop elsewhere, where prices might be lower or higher.

Safeway is in business to make money. If they ratchet the price of eggs up from $2.59 to $2.99 to $3.29 and you finally stop buying eggs, they've found the highest price you're willing to pay for eggs. Good for them, they managed to perhaps add a bit to their margin on eggs.

Produce at the open-air market is half the price Safeway charges, but it's in the next town over, 30 minutes away. For some people, it's worth the drive. For me, it's not. I really don't see this as anything but automating what stores have already been doing by feel and guesswork for years.
posted by xedrik at 9:06 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ideefixe: Big deal. Target give me 5% off when I use my Target card. Same diff.

yeah? How about if target gave your neighbor 10% off, because he's wealthier and more likely to be a lucrative customer? Is that still cool?
posted by gilrain at 9:07 AM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


tyllwin: "Sighing like the old man that I'm fast becoming, may I say that one of the features of this modern American life that I hate the most is the ever-increasing need to game the system for absolutely every damn thing?"

Combined with the constant feeling that you've played the game wrong and are getting ripped off somehow.
posted by octothorpe at 9:07 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't quite get all the outrage here. Lots of products try to lure people in with lower prices than regular customers pay. Every newspaper and magazine ever, for example, offers discounted prices to new subscribers that eventually revert to the regular rate. How is this different?

Oh, and as for the "OMG invasion of privacy!!!!!!" angle--well, you don't have to use a loyalty card if you care about your privacy (and, in that case, all your prices are the same as every else who doesn't use a loyalty card). On the other hand, I cannot begin to imagine what nefarious purpose you guys imagine someone will find for the data from my loyalty card purchases.
posted by yoink at 9:08 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And people shop there why, again?!

I need to get my toilet paper and Doritos somewhere, OK?!

That said, I discovered a produce store that sells "seconds" (basically, the fruit and vegetables that major chains deem too ugly to put on their shelves). The selection is a bit unpredictable, but holy shit do I ever save money on groceries. About the only reason that I go to major chains now is for meat (because there are no decent, independent butchers nearby) and the junk food that I occasionally indulge in.

The Latin market across the street from me also has very cheap produce, but most of it looks like it's been sitting on the shelf a bit too long and tends to spoil very quickly.

Many smaller cities and towns simply don't have these sorts of options, though. If you go grocery shopping in the average town in my province you generally have two options: a Safeway or IGA and a Co-op. The prices are often very high and so people in towns that are relatively close to a major city will often drive up to an hour to get their groceries in the city, only going to the local stores for perishables like milk. Of course, this probably further drives up the prices in their local stores, which need to maintain their margins while selling less and less product.
posted by asnider at 9:08 AM on August 10, 2012


Food prices, like gasoline, are already incredibly dynamic.

Yes, but when those prices go up/down, they do so for everyone in the store. Your local gas station isn't charging you more or less based on how often you get a Big Gulp when you fill-up.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:08 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do they still take cash? I don't think I've ever paid for groceries with a card.
posted by pracowity at 9:10 AM on August 10, 2012


Stores charging different prices to different people: gross and potentially illegal.

Really? Same as airlines charging different prices on the same flight? As noted already, under traditional marketing programs different customers have been paying different prices for years, just for bringing in a coupon or scanning a loyalty card. And for years, supermarkets have been selectively distributing those offers — one neighborhood gets coupon A, one neighborhood gets coupon B, with different discount values. All this is doing is bringing the marketing plans down from neighborhood levels to individual household levels. It's called variable pricing and it's done to maximize profits, whether it's airline seats or groceries. I don't think this creates a rich/poor divide — it creates a divide between smart shoppers who take advantage of it and those who don't for whatever reason (including being rich enough not to care what they pay).
posted by beagle at 9:10 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Sighing like the old man that I'm fast becoming, may I say that one of the features of this modern American life that I hate the most is the ever-increasing need to game the system for absolutely every damn thing?"

Me. too. But the upside is we'll be that much more savvy when everything blows up.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:10 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


yeah? How about if target gave your neighbor 10% off, because he's wealthier and more likely to be a lucrative customer?

Businesses have been giving discounts to bulk-purchasers since time immemorial. While I wouldn't expect Target to do it, I would be flabbergasted if some local mom and pop store which would never think of instituting a loyalty card wasn't happy to give a price break to a rich "lucrative" customer over the person who just stops in now and then to buy the odd item.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, but when those prices go up/down, they do so for everyone in the store. Your local gas station isn't charging you more or less based on how often you get a Big Gulp when you fill-up.

Sure they do. Check out the loyalty program that's probably posted on the pump.
posted by beagle at 9:11 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


yeah? How about if target gave your neighbor 10% off, because he's wealthier and more likely to be a lucrative customer? Is that still cool?

I feel like we all really, really need to internalize how contemporary capitalism/government/legal stuff is about taking from the vulnerable to give to the powerful. We fought for a long time to get redistribution going the other way via social services and labor rights, but basically the state and the law are enforced by the powerful on the weak in order to take their stuff. When there was land to steal from Natives, that's what the state did; when there was labor power to steal from workers, that's what the state did. Right now, the way to do it is to support a system where poor people get dinged on everything and rich people get all kinds of benefits.

The rich do what they want, the poor suffer what they must - and that's the way the system is supposed to work. It isn't broken.

As rates of profit fall - as the rich have a tougher time getting richer - I expect ever more nuanced ways of screwing the poor in order to bring profits up, probably enabled by all the social surveillance stuff that everyone is so used to now.
posted by Frowner at 9:14 AM on August 10, 2012 [24 favorites]


For those who are SHOCKED and OUTRAGED over this, I have a question: do you get equally shocked and outraged by those "buy 10 and get one free" cards you get in cafes and frozen yogurt places and so forth? Because those effectively offer flexible prices to people who spend more in the store, based on the history of their past purchases.
posted by yoink at 9:14 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


What does it matter if the dozen eggs is $2.99 or $3.19 or $2.89; if it's a fair price to you, you'll buy it. If you don't think it's a fair price, you won't. You're still free to shop elsewhere, where prices might be lower or higher.

No price is fair if I get charged one thing based on my shopping history and another person in the same line gets charged another thing based on their shopping history. The only fair price is the same price for everyone.

Unfortunately, many people will not notice, and many will not care who do notice. And some of those who notice and care will not be free to easily change where they shop.

Capitalism hurts most when it tries to build relationships with individual people, because these stores aren't human and there is no relationship. The best parts of capitalism are agnostic: they do not differentiate between consumers, except perhaps for marketing and branding purposes. Capitalism with a memory combines the worst of all worlds.
posted by jsturgill at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Sure they do. Check out the loyalty program that's probably posted on the pump.

Yup. Safeway has a Safeway Gas station across the street. My grocery purchases earn gasoline discounts. Last time, it was $1.00/gal discount. Which all works to do exactly what they're wanting; keeps me a Safeway customer through and through. I buy gas there 'cause the discount makes it the cheapest place in town, and I buy food there to get better and better discounts.

Again, I realize fully that my trade-off for this is giving them lots of identifiable information about my spending habits. For the amount I'm saving vs. not using the rewards programs, it's a trade-off I'm happy to make. I understand not everyone will feel the same, but everyone has the same opportunity to get the lower prices, so I really don't see what all the rage is about.
posted by xedrik at 9:16 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not really sure how. Safeway isn't a state actor, and there's no discrimination on the basis of race.

Not facially, no. That's why I said potentially illegal.
posted by gauche at 9:23 AM on August 10, 2012


If you're at a new store, or you forgot your 'loyalty card,' or never got one in the first place, try telling the cashier that you forgot is and your phone number is 867-5309. Seems like people give fake phone numbers, and its the first one they think of.

It's worked 4/5 for me so far...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:24 AM on August 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Next thing you know, even coffee shops will start having loyalty cards and some customers will get free coffee based on past purchase history while others won't! Madness!
posted by xedrik at 9:25 AM on August 10, 2012


Curious to see what Jenny's shopper profile looks like.
posted by notyou at 9:25 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am in favor of sliding price scales.

That is, when they slide to allow the poor to afford what the rich can easily pay for. This does not seem to be that.

QUITE THE OPPOSITE, ACTUALLY!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:26 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I have a Safeway loyalty' card. Actually, I've got three, and of course, none of them are my real name. If you don't want them tracking you, why do you supply your real name?
posted by Rash at 9:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


And people shop there why, again?!

Because it's approximately 3 blocks away and means I don't have to drive to get groceries.
posted by inigo2 at 9:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


As for loyalty cards, one question I've always had -- do they tie the cards to a credit card you use? Because my loyalty card is in some random name; does Safeway still know who I am based on the credit card I use?
posted by inigo2 at 9:28 AM on August 10, 2012


Do they still take cash? I don't think I've ever paid for groceries with a card.

The loyalty cards in question aren't store credit cards. They're simply a card that you show at the checkout in order to receive reduced prices on items that are "Club Priced" (that's Safeway's term; other stores use other terms). It's not a sale, exactly, because everyone gets that price if they have a loyalty card, but the few people who choose not to get a loyalty card or don't go to that particular store often enough to bother will pay a higher price on "Club Priced" products (which vary week-to-week, just like sales; of course, actual sales that affect everyone basically don't exist anymore, it's all about the "Club Pricing").
posted by asnider at 9:28 AM on August 10, 2012


I freaking hate marketing when it pulls crap like this. I would stop shopping at a place that did this. I should get a new Shaws card because I hate the tracking. If it says on the shelf it's 50% off, I'd prefer to buy it without the card. arrrrgh.
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2012


On the other hand, I cannot begin to imagine what nefarious purpose you guys imagine someone will find for the data from my loyalty card purchases.

I don't care to be tracked so I always punch in the phone number of a friend of mine. I can only imagine what the customer loyalty algorithm will do with his purchase history.

Come to think of it I may have to go buy things just to mess with him. I can start today: "Honey, why are we getting discounts coupons for condoms in bulk?"
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I, for one, am looking forward to figuring out how these discounts are calculated, and then fucking with them. Especially if the discounts drop into loss leader territory.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for loyalty cards, one question I've always had -- do they tie the cards to a credit card you use? Because my loyalty card is in some random name; does Safeway still know who I am based on the credit card I use?

Although all of this tracking is part of Big Data, chances are that they segregate credit card data in an entirely different and more secure system and don't connect it to anything, basically for security reasons. When someone hacks in and steals credit card info, they tend to have a Really Bad Day.
posted by beagle at 9:33 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Combined with the constant feeling that you've played the game wrong and are getting ripped off somehow.

No, actually. The time I stop shopping somewhere isn't when I know I'm being ripped off. It's when I don't know if I'm being ripped off, because it's so complicated or hidden.

transparency => trust => loyalty
posted by DU at 9:33 AM on August 10, 2012


Seconding the 867 5309 with any three digit area code in front. Work most everywhere I've tried it.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:36 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Most people's argument in favor of "loyalty" cards is: "But you really save a lot of money."

Another argument might be that it helps the store to pay more attention to what customers actually buy. Keeping track of inventory levels alone doesn't really give you this information. Wal-Mart famously revealed some years ago that according to its data, when hurricanes were approaching its customers tended to buy strawberry Pop-Tarts and beer. Jokes aside, knowing this behavior can help Wal-Mart prepare its stock levels so the hundredth customer looking for strawberry Pop-Tarts and beer won't discover that both are sold out.

I stopped giving my business to a mom-and-pop store, reluctantly, when it became clear they were paying no attention whatsoever to what its customers were actually boying. By contrast, this year my local grocery store has been doing a much better job of timing its stock of a particular brand of hot-dog rolls. The more fine-tuned information the store can get, the better job they can do tailoring their business. Thus, the feedback loop of using a customer card can include having a better customer experience.
posted by cribcage at 9:36 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just go to the till and if the total is, say, $37.51 I just offer them a flat $35 for it.

And then I pay $37.51 for it.
posted by mazola at 9:38 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got a loyalty card from one of the local grocery stores but I never actually filled out the application for it. Still works just fine though, including for getting discounts at gas stations with a cross-promotion thingy.
posted by kmz at 9:39 AM on August 10, 2012


I don't care to be tracked so I always punch in the phone number of a friend of mine. I can only imagine what the customer loyalty algorithm will do with his purchase history.

Because Safeway cards only give discounts and not "points" which can be applied to future purchases like some stores do, I never bothered to setup my own Safeway card. I've been using my parents' phone number for years. I also steal their gas discounts because they seem to think that Safeway has lower quality gas and refuse to buy gas there unless they're about to run out and it's the only gas station nearby.

As for loyalty cards, one question I've always had -- do they tie the cards to a credit card you use? Because my loyalty card is in some random name; does Safeway still know who I am based on the credit card I use?

Probably. Many of the data centres used by these companies are used by multiple stores. My wife accidentally scanned her Save-On-Foods card at Safeway a while ago and it worked as if it were a Safeway card. They're using the same data and someone, somewhere, is building a picture of her purchasing history across multiple stores rather than just based on what she buys at one or the other. So, yeah, they likely know who you are (not that they necessarily care if they have your real name or not, as long as they can manipulate your account in ways that will make you spend more money at their store).
posted by asnider at 9:39 AM on August 10, 2012


Price discrimination is all around you already. Examples:

- Store Brands vs "name" brands
- student/senior discounts for anything
- Tortillas vs wraps
- Coupons
- Targeted coupons

I don't think it's fair to consider it a shortcut to robbing the poor, the idea is to get some money from people who are price-sensitive by offering them discounts without sacrificing the big profits gained from rich people who don't want to clip coupons or check the weekly circulars for deals. If everything is one price either the poor can't afford it or rich people get a large consumer surplus.
posted by ghharr at 9:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


DU: No, actually. The time I stop shopping somewhere isn't when I know I'm being ripped off. It's when I don't know if I'm being ripped off, because it's so complicated or hidden.

Seconding this. If I have to figure out some complicated system to buy something from you without getting fleeced, you'd better hope that whatever you offer is worth the effort. Safeway just made it harder to buy anything from them, and they don't really offer any advantages over their competitors, so good luck with that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:41 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


As rates of profit fall - as the rich have a tougher time getting richer - I expect ever more nuanced ways of screwing the poor in order to bring profits up, probably enabled by all the social surveillance stuff that everyone is so used to now.
--posted by Frowner at 11:14 AM on August 10


What, you some kinda Marxist? ;)
posted by symbioid at 9:41 AM on August 10, 2012


The more fine-tuned information the store can get, the better job they can do tailoring their business. Thus, the feedback loop of using a customer card can include having a better customer experience.

And, hey, I'm all in favor of that. I just don't love having to reverse engineer a secret pricing algorithm to know which sort of coffee to buy this week. And I'm dead certain that the point of the algorithm is to, in aggregate, disadvantage people in my position and transfer wealth to the store from (the collective) me that they wouldn't get from (collective) me under an open pricing system.
posted by tyllwin at 9:43 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


What does it matter if the dozen eggs is $2.99 or $3.19 or $2.89; if it's a fair price to you, you'll buy it.

Yeah, it matters. What are you supposed to do, give up eating eggs? The fuckers are all going to have pretty damn close to the same price, no matter what chain you go to, and it's not worth driving all over town to save $.08 on a carton of eggs. Corporations suck.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:45 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I cannot begin to imagine what nefarious purpose you guys imagine someone will find for the data from my loyalty card purchases.

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did
posted by XMLicious at 9:45 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Harris Teeter does this. They call it E-vic. You sign up, they send you two emails a week. One with one or two special E-vic prices along with the store specials that week, and another on Friday more customized for you. Tomorrow I will be buying two gallons of milk at a very discounted price but I have to go on Saturday to get the good deal. They usually list four or five products at the heavily discounted price. My mom is also signed up and if I need something on her list she gets it for me and vice versa.

It's not the evil thing this is made out to be. I don't care if they know what I buy, and they are not the only store I shop at by a long shot. They want to lose money on me by giving me loss leaders, I'm not complaining.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:45 AM on August 10, 2012


How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did

And the "nefarious" part of that is...?
posted by yoink at 9:49 AM on August 10, 2012


We have traded the privacy of the individual for the anonymity of the herd.

Get used to it.

This will be your life until John Connor destroys the machines.
posted by mule98J at 9:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the problem isn't that some people are going to be charged a lower than base price; it's that some people are being charged a higher than base price. I don't care if a rich person's cost is going down, as long as mine also goes down or stays the same. But if my cost goes UP, then I have a problem.

That said, this was already happening at online retailers. For example, back in the bad old days before I knew about abebooks, I bought books online from Chapters. I was researching some books that I wanted to buy and found that they were a specific price- let's say $15. When I signed in to my account (the only way to actually purchase the book), the same edition of the same book cost $20. I guess they thought that I wouldn't notice, but I opened the site in two browsers- one where I was logged in, and one where I wasn't- to confirm. Yes, I discovered, they were trying to fuck me.

This same situation is what I forsee with this price customization- not decreasing the standard prices for loyalty customers, but increasing the standard prices for others who hopefully won't noticed that they were lured in by lies and just got fucked.
posted by windykites at 9:52 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was researching some books that I wanted to buy and found that they were a specific price- let's say $15. When I signed in to my account (the only way to actually purchase the book), the same edition of the same book cost $20

Yep. This.

Look, sure, capitalism works like this: the store tries its best to screw me to maximum extent that they can by law. I work to screw the store to the maximum extent I can by law. We should always try to trick each other, to fight over every penny. Anyone who doesn't is a fool. That's not, in every case, worth celebrating. It would actually be possible for the store and I to settle on a mutually beneficial and fair arrangement and then spend that effort elsewhere. Instead we act as though the battle is scared and any shopper or company who wants to trade fairly is worthy of contempt.


How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did

And the "nefarious" part of that is...?


So, we're good if a Dominionist company does that data mining, too, right?
posted by tyllwin at 9:53 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm dead certain that the point of the algorithm is to, in aggregate, disadvantage people in my position and transfer wealth to the store from (the collective) me

I'm less sure about that. While I am definitely sensitive to the objection that Bob doesn't want to decode some cipher to figure out why his neighbor pays a dollar less for chips, I think that on a basic level this sort of information gathering is primarily intended to further the store's goal in competition (business vs. business), not profits (business vs. consumer).
posted by cribcage at 9:55 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


We've mostly been grocery shopping at Trader Joe's these days and I do like that they don't have sales, or coupons or loyalty cards. Even with out all that we end up spending less than we had at The Giant Eagle (Western PA's equivalent of Safeway).
posted by octothorpe at 9:55 AM on August 10, 2012


I think the problem isn't that some people are going to be charged a lower than base price; it's that some people are being charged a higher than base price.

There is no such thing as a "base price." There's no Platonic world of Ideal Prices that says how much a dozen eggs or a bottle of shampoo should cost. There's just the price the shop chooses to put on it and your willingness or unwillingness to pay that price.

I get the feeling that very few of the people participating in this thread have read the article. It seems to me that a lot of these responses seem to have been triggered by the "project manager" vs. "blogger" difference in the FPP. "OMG, it's a nefarious scheme to charge bloggers more than they charge project managers!!!" It's pure happenstance that the one paying the high price is a blogger and the one paying the low price is a project manager, though. The prices they are paying are reflective, solely, of their purchasing history. And we have had variable pricing based on purchase history in retail since time immemorial.
posted by yoink at 9:57 AM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


And the "nefarious" part of that is...?

If they can do things like figure out that someone is pregnant when she hasn't told anybody and you still cannot begin to imagine anything nefarious being done with the information they compile I submit that you do not have a very good imagination.
posted by XMLicious at 9:58 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel like we all really, really need to internalize how contemporary capitalism/government/legal stuff is about taking from the vulnerable to give to the powerful.

What do you mean, "contemporary"? That's the way it's always worked. That statement is no more true of twenty-first-century America as it is of fifth-millennium BC Mesopotamia. Doesn't have anything to do with capitalism. Or, if it does, then it's just a feature of the way the world is inherently, not some New Thing we've done.

I mean, geez:
Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
Right now, the way to do it is to support a system where poor people get dinged on everything and rich people get all kinds of benefits.

If by "poor people" you mean "young people" and by "rich people" you mean "old people," then yes. The federal government currently spends $1.4 trillion on direct transfers of money to the elderly in the form of Social Security and Medicare. Of course, the elderly are, on average, far more financially secure than the young. They've had decades of earning power, have built equity in real estate, etc. So yeah, the "ding" is FICA and income taxes and the "benefits" are Social Security and Medicare.

Which is a derail, but so's the rant about "contemporary" whatever.
posted by valkyryn at 10:05 AM on August 10, 2012


Perhaps I shall tell you about my local Target. I live in Target's home town, and if I choose to bus to downtown Minneapolis, I can go to the palatial flagship Target on the main shopping drag, where they have everything plus a few extra experimental special things. This is not my local Target. My local Target is shitty. It's the inner city one where the poor folks go. It is understaffed even though it's incredibly busy. The pharmacy is always a giant clusterfuck, even though the pharmacists (a diverse and multilingual bunch) work very hard. The shelves are poorly stocked, stock itself is often a bit ding-and-dent, the selection is bad - and most tellingly, even though because it's a poor neighborhood there are lots of plus-size people, they've actually virtually eliminated their plus-size section. (As they have in many stores, actually. A friend of mine with insider knowledge tells me that this is because of internal politics at the company, "image" and a bunch of other stuff more than profit.) My local Target is where they dump the worst produce and where they try out experimental cattle-herding speed-up methods that make the customer experience worse.

Why do they do this? Because we are a poor neighborhood. We spend lots of dollars in the aggregate, yes, and the store is hopping from open to close. But we lack political power, we have no prestige and we can't do anything to keep from getting treated much worse than other customers. We're just a money farm, only we're a great money-farm because we have no other options so no one has to be nice to us.

By analogy, this is how I see the "different prices for different people" thing going. If Target really internalizes that they can charge $25 for a shitty, badly made modal-cotton shirt to some poor girl who lives locally and has to ride the bus to get anywhere and probably is a low-information consumer anyway but they can sell the same shirt to Ms Downtown for $19.99 to insure her brand loyalty, that's what they'll end up doing.

I happen to be between two worlds - I have comparatively little money but still have a foothold in middle-classdom, so I see how things work in both places. And I see how the poor get screwed, and it pisses me off.
posted by Frowner at 10:06 AM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


So, we're good if a Dominionist company does that data mining, too, right?

Wat?

Look, Target didn't "figure out that a teenage girl was pregnant." They didn't start chatting about Cathy's upcoming pregnancy on Facebook to all her pals or whisper about her to other customers or something. They have an algorithm that sees certain patterns of purchases associated with other patterns of purchases. That's all. "People who buy X often, but not invariable, buy Y." So they sent coupons for product Y to purchasers of product X. If she uses them--good for her, she got something she was going to have to buy anyway for a discounted price. If she doesn't use them, no harm, no foul. Even in the case that you linked to they didn't tip her father off to the fact of her being pregnant--he just complained about Target sending inappropriate coupons to his daughter, only to subsequently learn that she was pregnant.

Now, if you're imagining some scenario where individual "Dominionists" are poring over the automated data in their systems in order to identify potential pregnant teens and then sending teams of--what? anti-abortionist shocktroops?--around to the associated addresses to harangue said teen then, yeah, that would be truly appalling and shocking. It is also not remotely what is happening with any of this data, would almost certainly be illegal, and would see the business that did such a thing destroyed as soon as it hit the news.
posted by yoink at 10:06 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is no such thing as a "base price." There's no Platonic world of Ideal Prices that says how much a dozen eggs or a bottle of shampoo should cost.

Truth spoken in the land of coupons. Take away those coupons, customer cards, varying prices based on personal habits and whatever else they can come up with. In a town with two stores, you're left with two prices for a dozen eggs: the price at store one, and the price at store two. As a consumer, your base price is the lowest of the two.
posted by romanb at 10:08 AM on August 10, 2012


There is no such thing as a "base price."

There kind of is.

If I go to a store where apples are $1 each and there's a sign on the apples saying that they're $1 each (I don't know, maybe I live in Antartica or something), the base price is $1/apple. If I have a coupon or a loyalty card entitling me to a 50% discount, my price is $1.00-50%. If they have targeted pricing, and charge me $2.00 for an apple, I am paying more than base price.

There must be some kind of base price in order for the company to determine how much to charge each consumer, even if that price isn't listed. If there wasn't, the company would have a hard time measuring and projecting profits, because any changes to profits created by the changed (discounted or increased prices) are speculative and will have to be measured against the profits they would theoretically have expected to make with the base price.

The base price is their cost plus markup, and these targeted variations are (probably) all organised after assuming a specific markup of however much. That markup is the base price.
posted by windykites at 10:09 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


While I am definitely sensitive to the objection that Bob doesn't want to decode some cipher to figure out why his neighbor pays a dollar less for chips, I think that on a basic level this sort of information gathering is primarily intended to further the store's goal in competition (business vs. business), not profits (business vs. consumer).

But if the competition is competition on price, it works out the same, doesn't it?

Safeway sees that Alice bought onion dip but no chips. The algorithm figures she's buying the chips at Kroger. They offer her a discount to get her to switch and buy their chips.

But I really do suffer by that. Without the data mining and targeting, if Safeway wanted to poach chip customers from Kroger, they'd have to offer that discount to pretty much everyone, me included. Now, Safeway can offer it to Alice only making a tiny profit there, while avoiding having to give me the discount. So, yeah, Safeway does still get more out of me under that that scenario than under a "one price for all." model.
posted by tyllwin at 10:11 AM on August 10, 2012


Nothing new here, at least for the UK. UK supermarket Tesco's Clubcard loyalty card scheme was a pioneer in exchanging customized price discounts ( in the form of coupons electronically added to the card ) for customer purchase data. Its been used since 1995 and helped propel Tesco to be top of its sector. Don't want to be tracked? Don't use the card. The specific products on which Discounts are offered are tailored by matching purchase history to marketing sub segments , so it's not necessarily about favouring rich over poor; it may have a very weak effect of reinforcing "stereotypical" cultural consumption patterns though.
posted by Bwithh at 10:11 AM on August 10, 2012


If they can do things like figure out that someone is pregnant when she hasn't told anybody and you still cannot begin to imagine anything nefarious being done with the information they compile I submit that you do not have a very good imagination.

Again, they did not "figure out that someone is pregnant." They know perfectly well that a good number of the people they send those coupons to are not pregnant. I buy kids books on Amazon for the children of my friends. Amazon recommends kids books to me a lot. That does not mean that "Amazon has figured out that I have kids" although it does mean that I'm hitting an algorithm on Amazon that is similar to one many parents of young children trigger.

But fine: use your superior imagination and tell me some legal, practical way that this particular algorithm (the one that associates certain products women often buy in early pregnancy with products they buy in later stages of pregnancy) could be used nefariously. I'll be interested.
posted by yoink at 10:12 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What do you mean, "contemporary"? That's the way it's always worked. That statement is no more true of twenty-first-century America as it is of fifth-millennium BC Mesopotamia. Doesn't have anything to do with capitalism. Or, if it does, then it's just a feature of the way the world is inherently, not some New Thing we've done.

That's a much, much larger question and too big for this thread, but I find the "let's flatten the history of capitalism so that we can assert that things have always been as they are now and thus can never be any better" line of reasoning an unpleasant one. David Graeber's Debt is the happening book right now, but I'd also suggest both Immanuel Wallerstein's work (of which, honestly, I have only read his shorter essays and The Decline of American Power) and the systems/social history work of the sort of amalgamation of the Braudel/Aries people. I am told that Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation is good but someone borrowed my copy and then split town, so I wouldn't know. All of these together (or at least the ones I've read) give a nuanced history of how capitalism has changed and how much legal/military/state work had to be done to make "screw the poor, they can't do anything about it" a viable political strategy.

Hell, read Lark Rise To Candleford, which is just a memoir about growing up in the last days of post-Enclosure but pre-20th century rural England and you'll get much the same effect - a sense of the work that has been done over time to get people into their places and keep them there.

I can find any number of quotes from the ancient world which appear to suggest that we live just as they did, face the identical problems, etc....but if you dropped me back into Ancient Greece I would find it impossible to fit in.
posted by Frowner at 10:14 AM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Also, I seem to have said "base price" a million times without realising it, even on preview. Sorry if that's a shitty read.
posted by windykites at 10:15 AM on August 10, 2012


I shop all over the place, and don't have any loyalty cards. Not even for air miles. The customer in line ahead of me or behind me is always happy to lend me theirs.
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:16 AM on August 10, 2012


So it'd be cool if a grocery store in a "nice" neighborhood routinely discounted food but did not extend the discount to a customer whose history included purchases of, say, hair straightener or Jet magazine?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:19 AM on August 10, 2012


There must be some kind of base price in order for the company to determine how much to charge each consumer

You're equivocating, and you're wrong.

First, the equivocation. You're using "base price" both as if it were some kind of fundamental Law About Stuff, as if there were an inherent value to things, and as if it were determined based on the company's needs and cost structure. It can't be both. Either "base price" is inherent in the good, or it's contingent on the merchant's situation. You can't have it both ways.

Second, you're just wrong. Whether or not the company makes a profit on any individual item is irrelevant. Read about loss leaders. It can be rational to sell a certain product to a certain customer at a loss. The idea that there "must be" some kind of fundamental anything about the pricing of goods is just incorrect.
posted by valkyryn at 10:19 AM on August 10, 2012


I've been living most of this year in rural WA where Safeway is the only grocery store in a 30 mile radius. I have to say, I'm mostly happy with their selection, service, and pricing.

The chain has embraced IT--inventory is being done on iPads, there is free in-store WiFi, mobile apps, and two Internet-connected kiosks. (Meanwhile, you cannot get any kind of usable data connection on your phone in the area at large).

That we're seeing Safeway and others embrace CRM and personalization is no surprise--they're following the Amazon model and we shouldn't expect anything different here.

The real questions from a shopper's perspective might be: (1) is this valuable to me? (2) do I feel skeeved out? In my experience the answers are Yes/No.

Also note... Safeway is in the business of offering discounts for branded products.
Not food, mind you. Branded, manufactured, packaged products.


Well actually, yes food--the most recent personalized coupons that Safeway has generated for me at checkout have been for the brand of organic milk I already buy. I'd say that 50% of the personalized offers are spot on with what I want in my basket, 25% are interesting attempts to tempt me to buy something related to things I usually buy, and 25% are completely irrelevant. Not a bad mix IMHO.

As for loyalty cards, one question I've always had -- do they tie the cards to a credit card you use? Because my loyalty card is in some random name; does Safeway still know who I am based on the credit card I use?

I'm not 100% sure but our loyalty card has a fake name / fake phone number and neither of those are used anywhere else by us. This has led to me being known at the Safeway as "Mr. FakeName" despite the fact that my real name is on the credit card I use. I frankly think it's too much effort for Safeway to try and suss out such fakery and they fundamentally don't care, because the focus is on building a shopper profile to make offers to drive more business which is independent of "who you are"--as far as they are concerned you are your shopping history.
posted by donovan at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2012


If I go to a store where apples are $1 each and there's a sign on the apples saying that they're $1 each (I don't know, maybe I live in Antartica or something), the base price is $1/apple. If I have a coupon or a loyalty card entitling me to a 50% discount, my price is $1.00-50%. If they have targeted pricing, and charge me $2.00 for an apple, I am paying more than base price.

This is wrong on at least two levels. One is that supermarkets are required, by law, to post prices. So you can't be singled out for a uniquely high price--you can only be singled out (individually or as a class) for some discount below that posted price. In other words, if you pick up an apple in the bin marked "$1 per apple" you can't get to the cash and be charged $2--not without having a nice little lawsuit to bring against the store.

But it's wrong in the sense that there is any inherent "base price" to the product. The price is "whatever the market will bear" and it always has been. Now, with a product like apples, the supermarket will have a pretty good idea of what the market will bear and thus a pretty good idea of what markup it expects to put on the apples it buys wholesale. But if it finds that the apples aren't selling and that there's a risk of spoilage, down goes the price, and down goes their markup. Suddenly the apples they intended to sell for about $1 each are selling for about .50c. Or if they see that those apples are flying off the shelf and they learn that every other supermarket in town somehow failed to stock those apples, up goes the price to $2 each. This is not some new thing invented by evil post-industrial capitalists. That's how price has always worked in any kind of market economy ever.

Individually tailored discounts are simply a natural extension of those market forces. When I go to the farmer's market (a pretty old-fashioned market exchange) and I go to a stall I frequent every week there's pretty good chance that the guy behind the stall will toss in an extra peach or an extra nectarine to my bag. He knows I'm a loyal customer and he wants to cultivate that customer loyalty. The guy behind me who is showing up for the first time and may never show up again probably won't get that extra peach or nectarine. Is that a shocking breach of the "base price" contract? Should I be shocked and appalled that the stall owner is keeping tabs on my identity (by remembering my face and name) and tracking my purchases? If not, why not?
posted by yoink at 10:25 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


use your superior imagination and tell me some legal, practical way that this particular algorithm (the one that associates certain products women often buy in early pregnancy with products they buy in later stages of pregnancy) could be used nefariously.

So a woman just got pregnant, well, she's not sure yet – but the data mining agency is. She needs to get a pregnancy test. They all cost 5x what they did yesterday at every store she goes to. Supposedly that's not nefarious, because she'd probably pay even more for it, it's a desperate situation you see.
posted by romanb at 10:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Graeber's Debt is the happening book right now

I read that book. I actually interacted with Graeber in a thread here a while back, but the thread closed before I could post my thoughts. Which are that it's bullshit. I said that at the time, but that was just a suspicion. Now I know it for sure.

His entire argument can be stated as follows: "In ancient times, people connected the concept of financial 'debt' with religious concepts of sin and/or moral 'debt.' But we know that religion is wrong and bad, so clearly they can't have believed any of this. So let's interpret all of their motives in light of what I believe and go from there."

It's terrible, terrible history. Graeber is arguing, explicitly so, that because he wants things to be a certain way that they are that way. F*ck that noise.

if you dropped me back into Ancient Greece I would find it impossible to fit in.

That's because you (1) don't speak ancient Greek, (2) aren't a subsistence farmer, and (3) have a fundamentally different worldview than they did, benefiting as you do from the advent of liberalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The latter is perhaps a real difference, but it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that rich people have pretty much always been screwing poor people.

The appropriate response to that is not "No they didn't!" but "It was wrong then and it's still wrong now." My ultimate point in this thread is not that because things are the way they were that everything is okay. It's that the idea that Safeway is doing something new and different is ill-informed. This is just an electronic species of exactly the same sort of thing that's been going on ever since there have been buyers and sellers.
posted by valkyryn at 10:27 AM on August 10, 2012


That statement is no more true of twenty-first-century America as it is of fifth-millennium BC Mesopotamia. Doesn't have anything to do with capitalism. Or, if it does, then it's just a feature of the way the world is inherently, not some New Thing we've done.

If you liked the way social relations were arranged in Hammurabi's time, here's a hell of a lot more of it with more technological prowess and constant surveillance and more corn-starch syrup than you could consume in a lifetime.

Graeber is arguing, explicitly so, that because he wants things to be a certain way that they are that way. F*ck that noise.

Hey, if David Barton can do it, why can't David Graeber?
posted by blucevalo at 10:32 AM on August 10, 2012


I'm dead certain that the point of the algorithm is to, in aggregate, disadvantage people in my position and transfer wealth to the store from (the collective) me

Well, aside from the bolded part I would say that is pretty much the goal of any merchant. I would disagree with the bolded part though, they are not trying to disadvantage you, they are trying to sell you things. If you can't afford stuff you either won't buy it or you'll buy it somewhere else. But if they price everything cheap they're losing out on all that extra money from rich, busy people who just want some damn ketchup. If anything they want to keep you, as a value-concious shopper, while still leaving open their option to charge more to people who don't care about price as much.

Perhaps I shall tell you about my local Target...

It's not that Target is going out of their way to be shitty to poor people though. I mean, maybe they are but that's not why poor area stores suck. They just aren't going out of their way to be nice, like they do for the rich people. Because the rich people can say "ug, fuck this shitty Target, I'm going to Whole Foods". It sucks but I wouldn't say Target is screwing the poor, lack of money is screwing the poor.

So a woman just got pregnant, well, she's not sure yet – but the data mining agency is. She needs to get a pregnancy test. They all cost 5x what they did yesterday at every store she goes to. Supposedly that's not nefarious, because she'd probably pay even more for it, it's a desperate situation you see.

More likely CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid would all be beating down her door with coupons or package deals with diapers and baby clothes. Colluding to extort the desperate is not a winning strategy in retail.
posted by ghharr at 10:32 AM on August 10, 2012


First, the equivocation. You're using "base price" both as if it were some kind of fundamental Law About Stuff, as if there were an inherent value to things

where and how did I say that? I'm pretty sure that my point was that the "base price" at any store is their cost plus their standard markup. And that they work within the frame of reference of their standard markup to determine discounts, etc, but that there still is a standard markup for an item at a store.

If that's not correct, that's fine, I have no problem being corrected. But please don't attribute something to my argument that wasn't there.
posted by windykites at 10:34 AM on August 10, 2012


Stores charging different prices to different people: gross and potentially illegal.
valkyryn: "Not really sure how. Safeway isn't a state actor, and there's no discrimination on the basis of race."

First off, I can't speak to whether it's legal or not, but "discrimination on the basis of race" doesn't just mean "policies that explicitly say black people have to pay more." There are lots of behaviors that end up being proxies for racial discrimination while not being (as gauche described) facially race-based. It's one of the major challenges in creating anti-redlining policy.

More generally: I don't think we'll ever be able to eliminate the practice of variable pricing, and as much as I personally loathe haggling I'm not even sure it would be a good thing if we did; it encourages buyers and sellers to find common ground, creating business that might not otherwise have occurred.

However, we're right to be troubled about the increasing tendency to turn it into a science, because it gives businesses (particularly large corporations) a dramatic advantage over their customers. There will always be a huge asymmetry between the information they can collect about you versus the data you can collect from them. They can afford to create an extensive infrastructure for data mining, and track you in ways you wouldn't expect (previously). You individually can't afford to do that, you can't collectively rely on a centralized consumer-information source (because businesses can simply choose not to participate, or to reveal selective information), and "crowdsourced" solutions fall apart when the crowd doesn't share a common price point.

I'm increasingly concerned that this is just too profitable a practice. Few companies can afford to not track you, because their competitors will eat their lunch... which just means that other companies are pressured to aggregate even more data, and it's just an ever-escalating intrusion into what little privacy we already had. Without severe and strictly-enforced restrictions of what consumer data can and cannot be tracked, I see no way we can avoid being known better by our grocer than by our friends and family, or even by ourselves.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:35 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


So it'd be cool if a grocery store in a "nice" neighborhood routinely discounted food but did not extend the discount to a customer whose history included purchases of, say, hair straightener or Jet magazine?

That's a pretty hilarious straw man.

"Hey Jim, I really want to discriminate against black people, but how on earth do I go about identifying them? They're so sneaky! You never know WHO might be a black person."

"Well Bob, lucky for you have this super hi-tech way of identifying black people: they buy hair straightener and Jet magazine, see, so we use this here scanner to see if they've ever bought either of those products and if they have, BINGO, all their prices DOUBLE!. No one will ever suspect a thing!"

This objection is like saying that because a racist person can use their eyes to identify black people and discriminate against them, all shopping clerks have to be blindfolded.
posted by yoink at 10:35 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


> There must be some kind of base price in order for the company to determine how much to
> charge each consumer, even if that price isn't listed.

Whatever shell games are being played with discounts person A gets and person B doesn't, there's a price still posted in the store on the shelf where the product is displayed, isn't there? Or is that being phased out? If it is going away, how do you figure out whether you have enough money to get through the checkout line?
posted by jfuller at 10:35 AM on August 10, 2012


So a woman just got pregnant, well, she's not sure yet – but the data mining agency is. She needs to get a pregnancy test. They all cost 5x what they did yesterday at every store she goes to. Supposedly that's not nefarious, because she'd probably pay even more for it, it's a desperate situation you see.

A) As I've pointed out three times already, the data mining company IS NOT SURE that the woman is pregnant. They are responding to the woman's purchasing history, not sneaking pregnancy tests into her underwear while she's shopping.

B) You're suggesting, in all seriousness, that a store finds out that ONE PERSON in their area has become pregnant and in response raises the costs of all pregnancy-related items by five. Whoever said I didn't have enough imagination to foresee the terrible, terrible consequences of this data-mining stuff was sure right about that. This is particularly hilarious given that the story that sparked this was about Target offering discount coupons to someone who fit their "might possibly be pregnant" algorithm.
posted by yoink at 10:40 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a frustrated shopper yelling "JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH IT FUCKING COSTS!", forever.

I am already creeped out by stores that don't have clearly declared prices. If there aren't prices on the shelves/items, I will just walk out without buying anything.
posted by jb at 10:42 AM on August 10, 2012


It is also not remotely what is happening with any of this data, would almost certainly be illegal, and would see the business that did such a thing destroyed as soon as it hit the news.

What would make that illegal? Why would it be legal to sell or "share with business partners" the information for the purposes of sending coupons but be illegal for other purposes? Things like selling access to your credit records and other databases of information about you - like the DMV databases of states - is legal, what's different about this? Companies assisting in warrantless government surveillance haven't been destroyed by this being revealed so why would you expect such consequences for assisting in private surveillance, especially with people like you around to tell everyone else not to rock the boat?

Privacy laws are not very strong especially in the U.S. versus Europe. This is exactly why we need to sit up and take notice.

tell me some legal, practical way that this particular algorithm (the one that associates certain products women often buy in early pregnancy with products they buy in later stages of pregnancy) could be used nefariously. I'll be interested.

Off the top of my head, how about an anti-abortion group dredging through data trying to find criminal miscarriages to report.

I mean, you can at least see that for example a stalker having access to a detailed catalog of information about what you buy where, what you eat, etc. would be a bit nefarious, right? That doesn't take crazy superior imagination powers to come up with, does it?

But you're saying we need to trust that companies when compiling this data will only ever use it for the most wholesome purposes, that we must assume good faith on their part, let them construct these tools and count it as innocent mercantilism until it's actually used against our interests. I don't see why we need to wait.
posted by XMLicious at 10:44 AM on August 10, 2012


DU: No, actually. The time I stop shopping somewhere isn't when I know I'm being ripped off. It's when I don't know if I'm being ripped off, because it's so complicated or hidden.

those LCD screen price tags...yeah, that's my limit. but, as a savvy shopper, i always keep a solution in my glove compartment. a screwdriver and a mallet. want to advertise to me when i'm a captive audience, like at a gas pump?...oops, my screwdriver fell in your speaker. tv screen at the checkout yelling at you? pop. crack. REMEMBER: sabotage WORKS!
posted by sexyrobot at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is no such thing as a "base price."

There kind of is.



The base price is their cost plus markup, and these targeted variations are (probably) all organised after assuming a specific markup of however much. That markup is the base price.


No, deanna, yoink is right. There is no such thing as a base price. Mindlessly applying the same markup to all items is a terrible system (you should markup perishables more, for example, in order to account for spoilage). It's also better, as this article points out, to offer different prices for different consumers. (This already happens with student discounts and senior discounts, for example.)

The cost of an item to the store doesn't matter once the store has bought the item. Now, they want to maximize profit, and decide to sell it at a price that maximizes the number of items sold times the price they're sold for. That's going to be affected by supply at other stores, and consumer demand, which can be different for every kind of consumer. This justifies their desire for variable pricing.

In the end the final price can be less than what they paid for something or many many times more than what they paid. The cost price doesn't figure into it.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:51 AM on August 10, 2012


Off the top of my head, how about an anti-abortion group dredging through data trying to find criminal miscarriages to report.

And, again, you're somehow imagining that the store actually "knows" something about whether or not its customers are pregnant. It does not. It knows that there is a certain probability that people who buy products X, Y and Z at time T will buy products A, B and C and time T'. The cost of sending out coupons is low and the rewards of snagging a few pregnant customers are high, so there will be a huge number of false positives in the mix. Just what do you imagine this "anti abortion group" who have somehow been given access to Safeway's loyalty card database is going to glean that will lead to actionable cases of "criminal miscarriage"? Someone bought a copy of "Criminal Miscarriage for Dummies" perhaps?

There isn't a DA in the land who would look twice at such "evidence."

And that, really, is your best shot at imagining the terrible, terrible consequences of programs like this?
posted by yoink at 10:52 AM on August 10, 2012


Amazingly bad ways datamined-pricefixing are going to go wrong, a speculative sample:
* Selling sales information between companies and marketing based on health purchases, from migraine sufferers offered discounts on the more-expensive-overall
mini-aspirin bottles to your health insurance company informing you they're no longer covering your diabetic testing supplies because you buy so many Little Debbie cakes
* Computer-calculated but disastrous product-correlation, like diet pills offered to plus-sized-clothes shoppers or people who buy hair relaxer shown great deals on fried chicken
* Customer loyalty apps on GPS-enabled smartphones triangulating your location and notifying merchants that you're in the area, or at least that in the area is "customer #317 who bought twelve boxes of Little Debbie when they were shelved by the door with the "But 5 get 1 free"
* and so on.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:54 AM on August 10, 2012


Oh, I forgot to answer this part:

What would make that illegal? Why would it be legal to sell or "share with business partners" the information for the purposes of sending coupons but be illegal for other purposes?

Try reading the contract you sign when you sign up for one of those loyalty cards. They usually specifically exclude the selling of non-aggregate data (i.e., data linked to your name/address). You might not want to sign up for one if it doesn't. Handing the data over to an anti-abortion activist group so that they could harass me would decidedly be a breach of contract.
posted by yoink at 11:01 AM on August 10, 2012


I do not have a single loyalty card, not even an overarching bonus card like air miles or aeroplan. Whenever I have asked someone who does use these things what benefit they get from having all their data harvested, lugging around all these cards, and fishing out the right one (or two!) each time, the answer seems to be on the scale of a couple of free movie tickets a year and maybe $10 a month in discounts on things they were going to buy anyway. Thanks, I have $150 a year I am happy to spend on convenience and privacy.
posted by 256 at 11:13 AM on August 10, 2012


Yoink, it doesn't matter much if the store knows the situation of their customer. What matter is that they set the price based on what they think their situation is.

You're suggesting, in all seriousness, that a store finds out that ONE PERSON in their area has become pregnant and in response raises the costs of all pregnancy-related items by five.

They raise the price on that particular customer, that's what we're talking about.
posted by romanb at 11:16 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the whole, Americans hate feeling like they are being ripped off, and by that I mean they hate paying more for something than their neighbor, if it wasn't a choice they made, or an opportunity they could aspire to.

You walk into Target, they offer you a loyalty card; you weigh the pros and cons, and you elect not to take the loyalty card. You're paying more than your neighbor, but you've made that decision for yourself, because you value your privacy more. Okay, no problem.

You walk into a bank, they offer you a credit card at 14.99%, because their advertised 7.99% rate requires a credit score you haven't achieved. You're paying more than your neighbor, but you can take steps to improve your credit rating to qualify for the better rate. Okay, no problem.

You walk into a car dealer, and you have to negotiate a price, and maybe you hate negotiating (that's a separate thing that Americans generally hate, although I personally enjoy it), and perhaps you end up buying the car for more than your neighbor managed to get it for, but you negotiated down to a price you were comfortable with. Okay, no problem.

You walk into a store, and the product is labeled $5, and you bring it to the register, and you pay $5, and as you're chatting with your neighbor (who was in line behind you) the same item rings up for $4, even though you both have loyalty cards. The person behind the counter says "sorry, that's just how it works." That's a problem, because you're witnessing inequality that you cannot control or predict.

Ultimately, I think that's the core of it: when Americans feel like they cannot predict or control inequality, they get frustrated, because we're raised to believe that we're all equal (which we're not, obviously) and that we're all treated equally (which we're not, obviously) and so when people at the top of that fake equality totem pole get treated as if they're lower down on the fake equality pole, they get disproportionally annoyed.

Does that make them bad people? No, it just makes them people who are used to being treated equally or better than others in the consumer marketplace, so they don't have the thick skin that comes from typically being treated equally or worse.

And if you really want to see Americans (I am American, so I can't speak for anyone else) get upset, have a celebrity walk into a crowded restaurant with an entourage, and have the restaurant keep you and your family waiting for another hour (even though you were there first) while they seat and serve them. Whee!
posted by davejay at 11:16 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


And, again, you're somehow imagining that the store actually "knows" something about whether or not its customers are pregnant. It does not.

Well then they're wasting a heck of alot of money sending out coupons based on this information. You should let them know that their data mining approach doesn't work at all.

If this approach can assist Target in narrowing down their search for pregnant women to market to it would serve the same purpose for anyone with any goal. Even if you put scare quotes around every single word you type it doesn't make any privacy concerns disappear.

I notice that you refrained from addressing whether or not it takes outrageous super imagination powers to envision a stalker getting access to this kind of database having any negative consequences. I think we can chalk up to rhetorical hyperbole your assurances of the impossibility of imagining anything bad happening as a result of this kind of hoarding of consumer data.

Try reading the contract you sign when you sign up for one of those loyalty cards. They usually specifically exclude the selling of non-aggregate data (i.e., data linked to your name/address). You might not want to sign up for one if it doesn't. Handing the data over to an anti-abortion activist group so that they could harass me would decidedly be a breach of contract.

Precisely my point in mentioning "sharing with business partners" - that's exactly why such clauses are there, so that they can simply make the recipient of such a sale a "business partner" and then it's like Target themselves using the data.

If you think that a contract which Target's lawyers wrote really prevents them from monetizing the information in any way that would put it in the hands of someone you wouldn't want to have it, and that hence we don't need stronger privacy laws, your credulity outdoes your lack of imagination in this area.
posted by XMLicious at 11:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


What is bad about it is when deals are offered at times I am absolutely broke, or have no transportation for shopping. Frustrating and anniying!
The store quit stocking a wondeful mix for guacamole. They can't order it.
On the other hand, once they realized a few Muslims live in the area, they began to carry halal lamb.
So it all evens out.
I would prefer just having lower prices and friendly service all around.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2012


I'm increasingly concerned that this is just too profitable a practice.

Which is kind of a weird concern. We're talking about giving consumers discounts. All the company is really doing is figuring out how to spend less on marketing for the same return. It's less that the company is increasing its revenue as much as it's cutting its marketing budget, spending fewer dollars but on things more calculated to be effective.

The whole thing with discounts is frequently to get the customer in the door so he'll buy other stuff. The problem with mass-market coupons is that you wind up just throwing them to the wind. Look in the newspaper. There are a good few dozen coupons in there at any given time, the insert goes out to millions of "eyeballs," and each manufacturer has to pay for them all. But of the few dozen coupons, any given customer is only likely to be interested in a small handful. So the manufacturers are paying for access to huge number of "eyeballs" in the hope that the small percentage of interested customers will be large enough in absolute numbers to justify the ad buy.

What we're talking about doing is offering exactly the same kinds of discounts, but only to those people that (1) have a pre-existing relationship with the merchant, and (2) based on said relationship, the merchant has reason to believe might be interested in particular products. Frankly, I like deals, but I don't like sifting through the 90% of deals on crap I don't want to find the 10% of deals on crap I do want.
posted by valkyryn at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The phone number 4254254255 works as an loyalty card alternate ID for most supermarkets on the west coast. You're welcome.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


in NYC it is illegal to do this. you have to have all prices visible BY LAW and if raise prices without visibly announcing it to potential shoppers, you have to sell it at the lowest price. hence the importance of those sales "newspapers" you get at the store.
posted by liza at 11:51 AM on August 10, 2012


in NYC it is illegal to do this.

No, it's not. All it says is that you have to list your prices and that you can't sell for more than your listed price. It doesn't say that you can't offer discounts.

There's been no suggestion that Safeway is raising prices on some consumers, only that it's not offering the same discounts to everyone. In no case is anyone paying more than the shelf price.
posted by valkyryn at 12:16 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: "Tomorrow I will be buying two gallons of milk at a very discounted price but I have to go on Saturday to get the good deal. [...] It's not the evil thing this is made out to be."

Depends. When do they deliver fresh milk, and when are they offloading last week's unsold, close-to-expiration stock?

Frowner: "My local Target is shitty. It's the inner city one where the poor folks go."

So... Lake Street? Because I kinda like that Target, it's the only one that usually has the newly-released movie, electronic thingy, etc. that I am looking for when all other stores are sold out. This is because of my own research, which has shown that the Target in the shitty part of town still gets some of that merchandise - not as much as the ones in nicer areas, but also doesn't offload it as fast - because fewer of the customers can or will buy that item there. Lake Street Target is my last attempt before giving up when it's out of stock. (Downtown is 2nd to last attempt - higher traffic, but also generally gets the larger bolus of item stock.)
posted by caution live frogs at 12:26 PM on August 10, 2012


Frankly, I like deals, but I don't like sifting through the 90% of deals on crap I don't want to find the 10% of deals on crap I do want.

How do you know if you're getting a deal or not based on the method in the FPP? Ask your co-shoppers what they're paying and run some statistics?
posted by romanb at 12:27 PM on August 10, 2012


This is why I use the keyring app to share cards with a huge number of other people. Totally randomizes everything and throws a wrench in the gears of this system.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:28 PM on August 10, 2012


The cost of an item to the store doesn't matter once the store has bought the item ... In the end the final price can be less than what they paid for something or many many times more than what they paid. The cost price doesn't figure into it.

Where are you shopping?
posted by romanb at 12:45 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do you know if you're getting a deal or not based on the method in the FPP?

Who cares? I don't. Why should I?
posted by valkyryn at 12:48 PM on August 10, 2012


I've thought about this quite a bit on my drive home and I'm kind of sticking to my original suspicion that it ends up being illegal at least in some states.

I should perhaps clarify that what I mean when I say "illegal" is more akin to, "you will have a difficult, lengthy, and expensive class action litigation on your hands" and a lot less like "you will absolutely lose on the merits." I guess I'm thinking more from a risk management side than a litigation strategy side.

But anyway my reasoning goes like this: the system, as designed, offers variable discounts to consumers whom it has selected on the basis of their past purchasing habits. The system is fairly sophisticated, such that it can identify subgroups of consumers and determine the most profitable discount to offer them.

Simplifying a little bit, it seems like the system's value is in its ability to make these determinations, which, let's understand propositionally as follows:

"With respect to product p, if this week we offer discount a to group x and discount .5a to group y, we will sell q additional product over the week at a profit of r."

or something similar. My question to you is this: how many paychecks would you bet that, for every one of the (say) 10,000 products p which the store sells, not a single group x / group y barrier will break down along the lines of a protected class?

Put it another way: are you willing to bet that there is no consumer behavior tracked by this system which breaks down along the lines of a protected class? There's nothing which, say, married people tend to buy which singles do not, or parents tend to buy that childless people do not, or that immigrants tend to buy that natives do not? When you aggregate all of this consumer behavior, there will be no group x which is significantly blacker than group y?

Because I think that, as soon as you are in a situation where it turns out that -- purely innocently of any racial animus -- you are charging black people 15% more, or 15% less, on average, for the same bottle of soda as you charge white people, you have a big, big problem. And it's a legal problem, probably a class action problem. And it's a problem that I'm pretty sure survives a motion to dismiss. Depending on the factual specifics, I'd lay money that it survives a motion for summary judgment, because your defense is a factual defense: "it made business sense and was not motivated by any racial animus". Well, we'll let the jury decide that.

And so now you're putting your CIO or COO in a spot where he has to explain in open court how it just made good business sense to charge married people more than single people.

Like I said, depending on the facts you could absolutely win it on the merits. But speaking from this armchair, I wouldn't put my name anywhere near a legal memo that said, "oh, businesses give discounts to people all the time, go right ahead." because that seems to me to totally misunderstand what is likely to happen once this system starts applying the data.
posted by gauche at 12:56 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Who cares? I don't. Why should I?

You did, or I misunderstood your larger point. Either way, I'm skeptical on whether people paying the shelf price are not paying more than they would if this system did not exist. Same goes with coupons and freebies and excessive marketing costs. Customers not 'loyal' to their merchants are surely the biggest losers here.
posted by romanb at 1:03 PM on August 10, 2012


And of course I misremembered that familial status is, at the Federal level, only a protected class with respect to housing discrimination. Perhaps you can read the "married / single" bits as "men / women" or some other class.
posted by gauche at 1:09 PM on August 10, 2012


It seems like it could be a risky proposition just from a cost-benefit perspective too. For these prices to influence customer behavior, the following things have to occur:

A. People have to sign up for the system, including providing their email.
B. The email with the personalized prices has to not be spam-filtered.
C. The customer has to actually take the time to read it.
D. The customer has to work that information into their purchasing decisions either ahead of time, or by using a tablet or something in the store. The store can't easily make personalized prices visible in-store.

So, you are limited to users of at least moderate technical ability, who care enough about prices to read marketing materials and price-check items and who plan ahead enough to make shopping lists. It can't really influence impulse purchases (no visible discounts in the store) and most people aren't going to want to print the prices out or carry around a tablet or something.

Overall, it just doesn't feel like it has the potential to impact consumer shopping a lot. The consumer time-expense is large and the amount of money concerned is small. It's not like comparison-shopping a plane ticket.

On the negative side, you have consumer backlash from several different directions (privacy concerns, time expenditures, non-egalitarian pricing), a lot of backend expenses (you think this will be cheap to implement?) and some other problems (people gaming the system to get loss leaders, people getting angry when their bill is not what they expect).

So on the whole I have my doubts as to whether it will end up being profitable. I feel like the negatives could easily outweigh the positives, which I suspect are being over-analyzed. Influencing shoppers to purchase more at a given store is great, but you don't really have to lose many shoppers to completely wipe out that benefit, and they do have stores that don't do this kind of nonsense. Walmart is an obvious one regardless of people's feelings about it, and here we have a grocery store that doesn't have club cards or anything and is generally the cheapest overall anyway.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:17 PM on August 10, 2012


I guess I have a very hazy idea of how the grocery business works these days. I would assume that the companies doing all this complicated stuff at the end of which they come out with tailored pricing, must be economically worth it otherwise they wouldn't do it. And therefore, all of the major chains must do it, otherwise they'd be at too great a competitive disadvantage.

If that is so, then how do I account for Trader Joe's? It's a major chain. They're pretty sophisticated. How do they do data mining? Seems to me, if they never have coupons or variable pricing dependent upon individual shopper profiles, then the only kind of mining they can do is from aggregated data of total purchases at individual stores. That allows them to adjust their product mix and pricing overall, but not really target individual customers, though of course, I'm sure they use that info to target specific store cliental (certainly on a regional basis).

Yet, they don't tailor their prices to individual customers. How can they survive competitively vs other chains then? Indeed, they appear to be pretty successful. You could say they are very careful to only open stores in very specific market areas (large population of students etc.), or that they target only a narrow part of the buying public, or purposefully sell only a very limited selection of goods, but isn't that broadly true of ALL chains on some level? I mean Whole Foods does that, and so does Safeway - after all, Safeway doesn't open stores willy-nilly anywhere, or carry any old product mix.

Why don't the same economic forces that compel Safeway et al. to tailor their prices to individual shoppers apply to TJ's?

And speaking of Tesco, the supposed pioneer and mastermind - they have a subsidiary called Fresh'n'Easy. They've been trying to establish themselves here in Los Angeles for several years now. They've sent us irresistible coupons - 20%-25% for years and that was the only reason we ever went there. It was quite instructive. Yes, they are certainly willing to go the distance in cost control, f.ex., with the self-service checkout and whatnot. But we've compared them against TJ's. There are differences, in that F'n'E carry major food company brands in addition to their own store brands (which is completely different from TJ's), but on pricing, they are more expensive than TJ's and the quality is all over the place (except for fruits and vegetables which I can't compare, because the one thing we don't buy from TJ's is F&V). We've compared, and F'n'E lose to TJ's. The only business they get from us is when we bulk buy things like canned tomatoes where we apply the 20%-25% coupons. That's it. So the pioneer and mastermind Tesco is not winning against pedestrian TJ's.

Now, I understand that TJ's has special relationships with suppliers and special product sourcing, but if that results in superior returns - why don't all grocery stores do what TJ's does? TJ's manages to have better prices through these practices, and their profit margins, I assume are healthy - so if it's all about profit, why don't Safeway et al follow? Isn't the game ultimately profit? Saying "well we're in a different market segment" doesn't make much sense if the answer is "well why are you in that segment if the returns are lower?".
posted by VikingSword at 1:19 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The smart way to implement this would be to only give the discounted pricing to shoppers who have actually gone to the website and taken some sort of action -- clicked on a 'virtual coupon' or something similar. That way, when they get a deal in the store and the person behind them doesn't, there will be some explanation for it besides price-gouging.

That is, in fact, exactly how it is being implemented.
posted by phatkitten at 1:19 PM on August 10, 2012


On further thought, I can absolutely think of two groups that would absolutely be identified by their purchasing habits: Jews who keep Kosher and Muslims who keep Halal.
posted by gauche at 1:20 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]



The phone number 4254254255 works as an loyalty card alternate ID for most supermarkets on the west coast. You're welcome.


The fake address/number does not work for Kroger if you want to get the most out of your loyalty card. Kroger gives you points (1 per $1.00 you spend on groceries not inc. cigarettes and alcohol and taxes.) Every quarter they tabulate your points and mail you a bunch of personalized coupons plus a coupon for $1.00 for every $100 you spend in the store. If you make Kroger your main grocery that adds up to some big savings. But the point is, they don't put this valuable coupon on your loyalty card, it is sent out to your home address.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a frustrated shopper yelling "JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH IT FUCKING COSTS!", forever.

This is the nub of the matter. Let's start with the basics: Charge me the price that you have listed on the aisle-- you would be surprised at how often they screw that up. And all the stores (and probably all the states) have different ways of dealing with this. At Food Lion, for example, you have to catch the mistake on your sales receipt but you cannot point it out to your clerk. Instead you have to take the item and the receipt to customer service and they give you the difference in what you paid vs. what it rang up. Unless you tell them that you get the item for free. Then they hunt down the manager and she says "Oh our policy has changed but just for our long time customers we will honor the old agreement" and you get your onions for free. I suspect few people bother-- it is much too much of a hassle and not all of the customers can remember what the listed price is.

Once we have attained that basic level, then I have to jump through hoops to get specific sale prices. Again let's go back to Food Lion. They were running a special that said "Spend $40.00 or more six times between now and this date 6 weeks in the future and you will get $20.00 back." We vary our stores depending on what we need but we did make an effort to shop 6 times in 6 weeks. What we got on that 6th day was not cash nor a coupon. What we got was our regular receipt that at the bottom stated "Shop here within the next week and show this receipt and you will get $20.00 off." So we needed to make another trip and we needed to save the receipt and show it to them. I wonder how many people threw their receipt away or lost it or forgot to shop within the one week period? That's what I mean by jumping through hoops.

Another sales strategy that all the stores use that drives me crazy is: Buy $15.00 worth of the specially marked items and get $5.00 off. It sounds good, great even, until you actually try to do it. Sometimes it is 10 items and you have to keep a running tally in your head until you get up to the cash register. Last week it was $15.00 worth of ? but no one in the store could tell us specifically what, the coupon sheet was smudged, and they were all out of the little booklets that listed the special items. I knew Lipton was on the list. I needed Lipton tea bags. Seems like a good fit, right? Only none of the Lipton products on the shelf had a special tag and I had no way of knowing (until I got up to the checkout and had everything rung up and paid for) if the tea bags I wanted were on sale. So I chose to buy one box, not $15.00 worth.

Finally, each store in my area has specific strengths and weaknesses and different coupon redemption rules. Food Lion does not double coupons, has lousy produce and meat, but nice clerks and assistants. Lowes doubles coupons, has great produce and meat, great service, and terrific weekly sales, but very high prices. Harris Teeter is just like Lowes only they sometimes have triple coupons and they are the farthest away. Kroger doubles coupons, has moderately OK produce and meat, moderately OK weekly sales, great cash back totals, and lousy customer service. So every week when I make up my menu and assess my needs I have to juggle all this information in my head.

In other words I already have my hands full trying to match the best prices for what I am buying that week. I do not need another "incentive" to get me to buy more.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:30 PM on August 10, 2012


The cost of an item to the store doesn't matter once the store has bought the item ... In the end the final price can be less than what they paid for something or many many times more than what they paid. The cost price doesn't figure into it.

Where are you shopping?


An example of outrageous markup is phone companies in most countries charging ten times what they pay for the bandwidth. An example of something being sold below the cost price is nearly-expired food.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:34 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Depends. When do they deliver fresh milk, and when are they offloading last week's unsold, close-to-expiration stock?


Ah, but this is Fayetteville's high class Yuppie store. I buy their marked down stuff all the time and I have never had any problem with anything they sell. Their milk-sale or otherwise-lasts longer in my fridge than anyone else's.

Now, many if not most of their prices are higher than everywhere else, but by watching their sales, the judicious coupon or two, and the Holy Grail of e-Vic, I can get quite a few items at a really good price. But bear in mind I also hit up Aldi's, the local IGA, and (groan) Walmart. Not to mention a local independent produce store and the occasional trip to Sam's Club and Big Lots.

It helps that I am centrally located, tend to buy the same types of things repeatedly, and have a good grasp of what a good price for any given item should be.

That deal on milk? Normally milk sells there for $3.99 which I happily pay if I need to because, hey, good milk. Tomorow I'm paying $2.49. Also, since I keep up with them, milk goes on sale for everyone about, say, once a month or so. A little higher than that E-vic price but still good. I should say here that most E-vic deals are either good for a whole week or for Friday thru Tuesday, with the exception of the very bestest one being a Saturday only deal.

My take on E-vic is that they are trying to make their instore circulars smaller-and they are, now-and get people used to looking for the sales online. E-vic deals are just the encouragement.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:49 PM on August 10, 2012


(Oh, and they double their coupons too. Occasionally I have a coupon for an e-vic special. It feels like winning.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:50 PM on August 10, 2012


Are people also outraged with Amazon (which charges differently to different users), online airline ticketing, and supermarket and dept store loyalty cards (which give discounts to card holders not available to others)? The Safeway practice just looks like more of the same. (I'm not saying I am completely comfortable with any of these -- though I suspect I have saved a lot of money from them all, being who I am demographically -- but it's hardly fodder for sudden NYT Outragefilter at a brand new corporate horror.)

And really, even the little bookstore or coffeeshop "Earn ten punches and get a latte / book for free!" business cards are just a small-scale version of the same mind-set: privilege loyalty and frequent buyers over drop-ins.
posted by aught at 1:52 PM on August 10, 2012


Are people also outraged with Amazon (which charges differently to different users), online airline ticketing, and supermarket and dept store loyalty cards (which give discounts to card holders not available to others)?

Some are, yes; many more would be, if it were as easy to discover these practices on those sites as it is to catch it when you see someone rung up for the same item at a different price.

posted by davejay at 2:24 PM on August 10, 2012


Dammit, italics closing fail. Sorry about that.

Meanwhile, here's an example: I recently booked a Disneyland hotel visit. I had a coupon from a mailing, and upon entering the coupon, I received some discounts on two of the three hotels...but when I added ticket prices in, the overall price was more than if I went in without the coupon, paid more for the hotel, and then added in the tickets.

Is this a glitch? Is this intentional? Who knows? It is much more difficult for me to know whether this is an intentional price issue or something else, whereas in a grocery store it is just right there in front of you.
posted by davejay at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2012


An example of outrageous markup is phone companies in most countries charging ten times what they pay for the bandwidth. An example of something being sold below the cost price is nearly-expired food.

Sure, the cost of a product to the store does not determine the final sales price, in theory and often in practice. But to say that the cost is not factored into the sales price, implies that the price a store pays for an item has no relationship to the price it sells it for. Is that really relevant for the majority of sales at stores? We're not talking about art auctions or an apocalyptic zombie wasteland..
posted by romanb at 3:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


My SO's parents are from Belarus--he was born in 1950, a few months after they arrived here--and his father was a butcher. One of SO's favorite praises for a store is: "Acme Market--now that's a one-price store." As opposed to the shopkeeper setting a different price depending on the customer. Just go buy furniture in Brooklyn and you'll see. Apparently the price tag on the shelf is a recent thing.
posted by skbw at 3:20 PM on August 10, 2012


yoink: You're suggesting, in all seriousness, that a store finds out that ONE PERSON in their area has become pregnant and in response raises the costs of all pregnancy-related items by five.

romanb: They raise the price on that particular customer, that's what we're talking about.
I'm surprised no one has addressed this exchange yet. romanb, that's logistically impossible. So Target figures out that one particular customer is probably pregnant. HOW are they going to raise the prices for just that particular customer? Are you assuming that no prices at all are marked in the store, and once she gets to the register she finds out that the product is 5 times what it should cost? The only other way this works is that if everyone else in the world gets a steep discount except her. That makes no sense, because Target would want to make the most money they could, and her 500% markup is not going to offset the discount that everyone else would have to get.
posted by desjardins at 5:10 PM on August 10, 2012


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a frustrated shopper yelling "JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH IT FUCKING COSTS!", forever.

I am already creeped out by stores that don't have clearly declared prices. If there aren't prices on the shelves/items, I will just walk out without buying anything.


If you, like me, are going slowly insane by the unclear, non-straightforward and labyrinth pricing schemes of coupons, discounts and rebates that we are seeing more and more of, please remember JC Penney, who have been rolling out a new, straightforward pricing system.

They released very disappointing results this week, which are causing some people to doubt this strategy, but it is still early days.

I should note that I have no connection or interest in JCP other than a soft spot for a company which has taken a strong and highly publicized pro-gay stance.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:50 PM on August 10, 2012


3VR’s Video Intelligence Platform (VIP)™ transforms customer service by allowing businesses to:
  • Optimize staffing decisions, increase sales conversion rates and decrease customer wait times by bringing extraordinary clarity to the analysis of traffic patterns
  • Align staffing decisions with actual customer activity, using dwell and queue line analytics to decrease customer wait times
  • Increase competitiveness by using 3VR’s facial surveillance analytic to facilitate personalized customer greetings by employees
  • Create loyalty programs by combining point of sale (POS) data with facial recognition
So they probably don't even actually need to see your card to compile the data on you any longer, they just ask for it to avoid creeping people out and give the illusion that you have some choice in the matter.
posted by XMLicious at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


HOW are they going to raise the prices for just that particular customer?

By adding costs to all other items she buys. Normally, the customer gets a 4.4% discount with the loyal customer card, now it's only 4.3%. Yes, I am updating my answer with an improved scheme.
posted by romanb at 6:30 PM on August 10, 2012


I admit to not having read this whole thread...

...but seriously, if you're not trading Safeway cards regularly with other people in order to foil their data collection desires, you're doing it wrong. I've been trading regularly with friends and complete strangers for years.

Also, to someone WAY up thread who said that Safeway is somehow giving discounts on items... I have three grocery stores in my town, and Safeway is far and away the most expensive of the three. Even with the card savings, it's easily 20% more than the other two stores. I go there rarely (the other stores usually have what I need), and every time I do, I'm aghast at what they're actually charging for things I buy at other stores. Since I only go there for things I can't get at the other two stores, I don't feel terribly like I'm being ripped off. But wow!

Even with supposed "savings" from the card (a horrible psychological game of lies, the "you saved THIS much on this purchase" thing... spending less is not equal to saving), Safeway is not good with prices. If I have large enough shopping to do that would warrant driving the 20 miles into the close-by large city and hit a couple of choice locations there, I can spend about 10% less than what I might spend at the non-Safeway stores in my town. But I'd have to do a LOT of shopping for that trip to balance out with the price of gasoline and wear on my car.
posted by hippybear at 7:05 PM on August 10, 2012


Aldi's and Trader Joe's. No cards, no bullshit, no mind games.

..

Aldi's and Trader Joe's.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:09 PM on August 10, 2012


A small local chain grocery store I go to prints out a second long slip of paper with my receipt (the store doesn't have a loyalty card). This slip contains coupons. Some are just coupons that go to everyone, some are for products I've bought that day, and some are for competing brands (say if I buy Yoplait yogurt, I might get a coupon for Dannon). So I don't think there is any surprise around the issue of a brand trying to convert me by offering me a coupon when they see I've purchased a competitor's item.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:09 PM on August 10, 2012


I'd just like to point out that one of my favorite things about my local supermarket chain (the NotShaw's one) is that the print on both sides of the receipt.

Also, cheap produce.
posted by maryr at 11:11 PM on August 10, 2012


I don't understand what all the fuss is about.

I don't know what stores everyone else is shopping at, but I've picked up rewards cards at five different stores and none of them have asked me for ID. When I used my rewards card and buy coffee, I get coupons for coffee. Yay! I save $4 on coffee next time (which will be in about a week)! When I buy diapers, I get coupons for diapers. Yay! Lower-priced diapers next time! And all of it's under a fake name.

Data-mining? I guess, but if it means that I get more coupons for coffee and the shampoo I use, instead of random coupons for men's razors and vitamins or something, I'm all for it. I might think differently if they required an ID, but I really don't know if I would.

I do think it's a bit daft to not advertise a lower price to the one that doesn't seem to want it, though. If the product manager is already super-fond of it, she might be willing to pay an extra fifty cents for it. If the web designer isn't interested, maybe a lower cost would make her more interested.

It also makes me wonder... I thought certain laws in certain states (maybe just mine...) require prices be clearly marked. If there are different prices for different people, how would this be handled in those places? Is it simply there will be a "baseline" price (that the blogger is getting) and others get automatic coupons? If so, why not just call it "automatic coupons" instead of sending people into a frothing panic about "big brother"?
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 11:39 PM on August 10, 2012


The way I heard it, a few years ago, stores were using the cards to discourage certain types of customers: bargain hunters. When they saw that certain customers would only buy the deeply discounted goods, they stopped offering bargains to those customers so they would shop somewhere else entirely. If the bargain goods are aimed to get people into the store in the hope that they will buy additional products, and someone never does, then you don't want that person as a customer.

When people say "this isn't any different than what they've done before" that's silly. They wouldn't be doing it if that was the case. They don't hire IT teams to do old things that they could do without an IT team (ie. newspaper coupons).

The really interesting thing is that this means upper class people should stop telling poor people how to succeed in life. It's always been true that the poor have fewer and qualitatively different choices, but now, when it comes to buying groceries, I can prove it. Buying too many things on sale gets you effectively booted as a customer.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:56 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


HOW are they going to raise the prices for just that particular customer?

I could see them using it to raise the average prices I pay, by figuring out where my demand is inflexible. For example, I don't care how much you discount skim milk; even if it is free, I am not going to buy it. I am going to buy whole milk every time, period. Every two or three weeks, it's magically on sale and I get a deal, yay! But when SkyGroceryNet becomes sentient, it will realize that offering me a discount price on whole milk is just wasted money.

We all have points of inflexible demand -- a brand to which we are intensely loyal, a type of food we prefer, a laundry soap that is good for our skin. Offering discounts on those is a waste, unless it affects our choice of shopping at Store A vs Store B -- and with a big enough database they can figure that out, too. I might drive across town for a big shopping trip, but when I realize I need milk at 6 am, I am going to go to the closest store, period.

From looking at other people's carts, I'm an atypical grocery store shopper. I buy mostly from-scratch items, and I'm not all that price-sensitive (in a choice between two items, I'll buy the one that looks higher quality, which usually means has the shorter ingredient list) because food shopping is a very small part of my overall budget. I expect the variable pricing to slightly raise my overall grocery bill, which isn't that big of a deal but is mildly irritating. If it has the same impact on someone who is much poorer, then that's shitty and I hope the lawsuit hurts the stores big time.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If they can do things like figure out that someone is pregnant when she hasn't told anybody and you still cannot begin to imagine anything nefarious being done with the information they compile I submit that you do not have a very good imagination.

There's a difference between imagining possibilities of what can be done versus imagining the nefarious motivations of unknown people to actually do them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:50 AM on August 11, 2012


Motivations seem even less like something one would be unable to begin to imagine than methods. I'm actually hard-pressed to come up with a motivation for any form of one person exploiting or taking advantage of another that would not apply to misuse of an enormous database of everyone's habits, routines, preferences, and other intimate information, especially as correlated with all of the other sources of data available on individuals today.
posted by XMLicious at 8:31 AM on August 11, 2012


All of these hypothetical scenarios of malicious targeted marketing seem to be based on the idea that if a store discovered a customer just had a newborn they would think "Aww yeah, let's jack up the price of diapers for that customer and make some serious bank!" as opposed to the reality of "That customer is going to be buying a lot of diapers so let's offer her enough of a discount to make sure she buys them here and not some other store."

Or this:

HOW are they going to raise the prices for just that particular customer?

By adding costs to all other items she buys. Normally, the customer gets a 4.4% discount with the loyal customer card, now it's only 4.3%. Yes, I am updating my answer with an improved scheme.


Yes, stores will offer smaller discounts across the board for women who need to purchase pregnancy tests because... um... they don't like pregnant women?

I'm not saying big-box retail isn't a scourge, but let's try a little harder in our hypotheticals, people.
posted by turaho at 9:46 AM on August 11, 2012



Depends. When do they deliver fresh milk, and when are they offloading last week's unsold, close-to-expiration stock?



For those following along at home, I purchased my e-Vic milk and I checked the dates. Fresh, baby, fresh.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:13 AM on August 11, 2012


how many paychecks would you bet that, for every one of the (say) 10,000 products p which the store sells, not a single group x / group y barrier will break down along the lines of a protected class?

It doesn't matter, does it? They've got a very sophisticated system, into which they can go into exacting detail. The question isn't whether any single discount winds up lining up with a protected class, it's whether the company has a non-pretextual, valid reason for doing what it does. They absolutely do, as far as I can tell.

Further, we're talking about a system which probably kicks out hundreds or thousands of discount campaigns a week. If one or two of them wind up along the lines of a protected class, that's a really, really weak basis on which to state a claim. "The rest of their neutral system isn't discriminatory, but this one right here just happens to be. Gotcha!" Ain't gonna fly.

Depending on the factual specifics, I'd lay money that it survives a motion for summary judgment, because your defense is a factual defense

I'd take that bet. The summary judgment standard in federal court is pretty lenient towards movants. Once Safeway comes forward with their evidence that they have a legitimate reason for doing this, it falls on the plaintiffs to show, by admissible, properly designated evidence, that the allegedly legitimate reason is pretextual. This is really, really difficult. And they can't just say "But! But! Protected class!" either.

You're basically taking the position that if you're a business that does something that happens to line up along the lines of a protected class without even knowing it, then you're liable for discrimination. I just don't think that's how that works.
posted by valkyryn at 10:45 AM on August 11, 2012


why don't all grocery stores do what TJ's does?

Well, for one thing, TJ's is a privately held company. Same company as Aldi's, as it turns out. Kroger and Safeway, for example, are publicly-traded. So the owners of TJ's can basically do whatever the hell they want with their company, but Kroger and Safeway have to answer to their shareholders, who generally don't give a fig about anything but ROI.

I also get the impression--there's no Trader Joe's in my town, nor have I ever lived near one--that TJ's doesn't sell most of the same products that regular grocery stores do. Neither does Aldi's. TJ's has its own supply chain, for the most part, and Aldi's sells overstock and leavings from regular grocery stores. So they're sort of competing with Kroger and Safeway, but sort of not. The latter two are trying to make a profit selling the exact same stuff. TJ's and Aldi's aren't.
posted by valkyryn at 11:16 AM on August 11, 2012


But fine: use your superior imagination and tell me some legal, practical way that this particular algorithm (the one that associates certain products women often buy in early pregnancy with products they buy in later stages of pregnancy) could be used nefariously. I'll be interested.


2014 - Conservative hacker convinces system to send anti-abortion tracts along with coupons.

2018 - Target Courtesy Pregnancy Tests rolled out to test accuracy of system; terrorists attack pregnant women after hacking system

2021 - global warming brings incurable tropical diseases to US, leading to sudden reverse in stem cell research policy; leading FDC to hunt down & extract healthy stem cells

2030 - directed radiation gun meant to produce "superior human traits" kills entire generation of Target shopper offspring

YOU ASKED
posted by saysthis at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


My Aldi's has private label for much of their items. Occasional name brands but, not really much.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:53 AM on August 11, 2012


And of course I misremembered that familial status is, at the Federal level, only a protected class with respect to housing discrimination. Perhaps you can read the "married / single" bits as "men / women" or some other class.

You might have to look into the algorithm, taxonomies and logic used to drive the system to determine whether or not it's discriminatory. For instance, are past purchases used directly to predict future purchases, or are past purchases abstracted to some demographic (poor family of ethnicity X) that might in fact be protected, to the disadvantage of that demographic at the checkout stand.

I also wonder if there's some lurking issue with extant consumer protections against price-gouging or maybe just contractual principles (unconscionability? implied covenant? closer scrutiny given adhesion?) when a program that by all apparent indications is supposed to provide access to discounts in exchange for information, in fact uses collected data to selectively increase prices in a predatory fashion, as some have suggested could happen (although this depends to a certain extent on the idea of a "base price," which is perhaps fallacious as argued above).

To expand upon the sinister idea above, some aggregator linking your credit card and your store card notices you spent a bunch of money at a bunch of bars, took a cab home in the morning, and decides to mark up the morning after pill in case you need it (or, less horribly, Advil and 7-Up).
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:19 AM on August 13, 2012


This may not be the right place for this discussion, but it seems to me that an apparent indexical relationship between a computer-identified shopper demographic and a protected class giving rise to a potentially discriminatory pricing scheme is made more likely to survive summary judgment by its fact-intensive nature. The only evidence the plaintiff needs at that point is that of the apparent relationship, to raise a trialable issue. No?

For the non-legal people, this encapsulation might help (cribbed from a recent South Dakota USDC opinion and order, and that lazily grabbed from Google.)

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Summary judgment is not "a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather ... an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed 'to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination ofevery action.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,327 (1986) (quoting Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). On summary judgment, courts view "'the evidence and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 679 F. 3d 657,686 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Mayer v. Countrywide Home Loans, 647 F.3d 789, 791 (8th Cir. 2011)). A party opposing a properly made and supported motion for summary judgment must cite to particular materials in the record supporting the assertion that a fact is genuinely disputed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); Gacek v. Owens & Minor Distrib., Inc., 666 F.3d 1142, 1145 (8th Cir. 2012).
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:42 AM on August 13, 2012


New Algorithm Predicts Your Future Movements Within 65 Foot Accuracy

It really is amazing what can be done with lots of small pieces of information.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:38 AM on August 14, 2012


« Older Mel Stuart goes to the great chocolate shop in the...   |   New hand-held CNC from MIT Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post