Retailers are positioning themselves to charge customers based on their willingness to pay—so that my Burberry-dressed neighbor pays more than my thrifty neighbor for the same product. How are retailers tracking our shopping habits, and what does it mean for you?
At the National Retail Federation annual conference, retailers discuss how to use big data to personalize customer prices. Tactics include in-store cameras that track which products you’re examining, so Kroger can send you a coupon for chips as you’re still roaming the salsa aisle. Or if you buy cat food towards the end of the month, you’ll be e-mailed a special offer on the 25th, rather than showered with ads all the time. But do the savings outweigh the creepiness?
Imagine if the federal government mandated that a portion of all federal gas taxes go directly to the oil industry’s trade association, the American Petroleum Institute. Imagine further that API used this public money to finance ad campaigns encouraging people to drive more and turn up their thermostats, all while lobbying to discredit oil industry critics—from environmentalists to those calling for better safety regulations or alternative energy sources.
That’s a deal not even Exxon could pull off, yet the nation’s largest meat-packers now enjoy something quite like it. Today, when you buy a Big Mac or a T-bone, a portion of the cost is a tax on beef, the proceeds from which the government hands over to a private trade group called the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. How did this system come into being? And what is the NCBA doing with all that money?