Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Happy birthday from all of us at Sainsburys

I spent last weekend staying at an old friend’s house, using his 40th birthday as an excuse to drink as much of his beer as possible in the available time.

And I did rather well, even if I say so myself.

One thing I couldn’t help noticing between beers was that Sainsbury’s had sent him a better birthday card than I had done

They’d also sent him a comparable present to mine – a voucher for a free bottle of plonk. Actually, Sainsbury’s was probably better as he gets to choose the wine.

For the 20+ years that I have known him my chum has always taken his food seriously and I respect him for that. Though I’m still unconvinced about his conversion to the benefits of Omega-3 in his children’s diet. Maybe if Omega-3 were extracted from pureed elephant I’d buy into it being some kind of brain food, but fish? Since when have fish been renowned for their powers of memory and concentration?

There’s also the small question of concentrated fish extracts being a rich source of other essential nutrients such as cadmium and dioxin which are arguably not the kind of things you’d want to be pouring down your kiddies’ necks.

But I digress

My mate eats, and buys, healthy and given that non–lethal food carries a hefty price premium Sainsbury’s love him for it; so much they’ve taken to sending him birthday cards.

I particularly enjoy the way that his computer-generated card was printed with a faux hand-written font from ‘all of us at Sainsbury’s’

The image of the entire Sainsbury’s management team taking time out to sit around the boardroom table to write out birthday cards brings a lump to my throat.

OK, maybe I’m being a little harsh on Sainsbury’s. After all who would want to receive something like this in the post…

Happy Birthday Customer BRM456787632/A

Based on our extensive records of your purchasing behaviour, our customer-profiling algorithm has identified you as someone who spends a shit load of money in our stores

On the off chance that you are slightly soft in the head and influenced by such things here’s an automatically generated birthday card

Statistical and psychological analysis has established that this is a cost-effective marketing tool


A. Computer

I mention all of this because the sight of that card rammed home to me just how inconsistent I am when it comes to the kind of technology behind that birthday card. I too have a supermarket customer loyalty card. I also have an Oyster Card to pay for my tube and bus travel in London. I have debit and credit cards. I occasionally switch my mobile phone on. And, yes, in spite of all that I still spout on about the fundamental wrongness of the proposed National ID card scheme.

Little by little, all but the most devoted civil libertarians are giving in.

Take the Oyster Card for example. I could continue to pay for my travel with cash but the fares have recently been revamped to make that a much more expensive option.

Consider the supermarkets. Many people will agree that supermarkets already have too much control over the retail business in the UK but they are so powerful and so sophisticated nothing and no one can stand in their way for too long.

There are a couple of fairly easy examples of the power and sophistication of the supermarket chains not too far away from me. In both cases the local council granted building permission for superstores, complete with large car parks, slap-bang on two busy local high streets. Shortly after the supermarkets were completed, the council obligingly placed severe restrictions on parking along both streets, policed by hordes of wardens. The result being that shoppers are literally herded into the supermarkets by supposed public servants.


And, of course, you could refuse a supermarket loyalty card once you've been herded into the store but you effectively end up paying more for your food as you subsidise discounts to people who do accept the cards.

And once you start using the card the supermarket gets access to more information about what’s really going on in your life than any National ID card, travel pass, mobile phone log or, ahem, record of your surfing habits.

Think about how much someone can find out about you just by examining the contents of your shopping basket, week in week out.

And the more things the supermarkets sell the more complete their record of individual lives is becoming.

I’m not happy about that.

Or maybe I’m reading too much in a simple birthday card

Whatever, I'm off to my local Tescos to buy some Afro styling mousse and change my year of birth on their database to 1928. Let's see what they make of that.


Frank O'Dwyer said...

Easy solution to the supermarket loyalty card problem:

1. Fill in application with bogus details.
2. Swap card with like-minded person
3. Repeat 2.

de said...

money > integrity