Link: BBC NEWS Alarm over shopping radio tags. There's an interesting article over at the BBC about the use of RFID chips (Radio Frequency ID tags) on supermarket products. These little beasties are getting so cheap it's not going to be too long before they can be put onto everything that we buy. There are a number of concerns about this, all of which I can understand, and the article goes into detail explaining them.
However, what I find interesting is the positive way in which these things can be used, and I'm wondering how long it will be before the search engines companies start to get interested in getting a closer tie up with supermarket chains. Once you add in Google (for example), and your mobile phone into the equation shopping takes an interesting turn.
We'll be able to take a look at a product, run a quick search on it, and see if the product is cheaper down the road at another store. Of course, that in itself won't make us drop our shopping and run to the other shop to save a penny, but you'd be able to look at your total shopping bill and quickly work out if you've saved money over buying in one place or if you're spending too much, and that's going to change our shopping habits. We'll also be able to decide on a recipe for supper, 'tell' Google what we want, and get guided around the store to pick up the ingredients for what we want. That's also going to change the way in which the supermarket displays its products - at the moment they put things in different places to make us walk past the shelves in the hope that we'll make an impulse buy. They'll have to consider how to achieve the same result when we're in a position to be guided.
Of course, if we're using our favourite search engine for shopping AND we're using a personalised version, it's going to be able to suggest new recipes, based on things that we've told the engine that we like.
Furthermore, if there is a tie up with a supermarket, when we start shopping, the search engine knows what we like, can talk to the supermarket and suggest new products to try, based on previous shopping habits. It's going to be in a position to tailor marketing right down to the individual, really focussing in on what interests us. I am fully expecting that we'll be in a position to say to our shopping engine 'I'm bored with the usual stuff.. suggest something new' to increase the level of serendipity, or on the other hand, if we're in a rush, tell the shopping engine to just stick to the basics.
This is something that I predicted in my talk at the Online Conference last December, and I'm fully expecting to see a rise in shopping engines in the next few years. While I agree with all the concerns that the BBC article expresses, I think it's also worth considering the benefits of a system like this. In order to take full advantage of it there will be considerable sacrifice of 'personal knowledge' since the shopping engine needs to know what we like. On the other hand, if you're not happy with that, you'll be able to make the choice of not telling an engine what you like, and spending longer browsing around, and possibly spending more money. It's a balance between convenience and freedom. I suspect that most people will opt for the former.