Somebody's watching you

Everybody’s getting a little nervous about losing their privacy. Confidential information surfaces randomly from the bottomless Internet sea. Smartphone users snap photos of anything, anytime, anywhere. Data mining has improved, aided by sophisticated new metrics that can create a detailed personal profile predicting your next move.

As Harold Finch on Person of Interest might say, “You are being watched.”

This “digital transparency” has fundamentally changed the relationship between business and consumer. Two-way communication is out in the open. If you’re an operator smarting from a bad online review gone viral it may be hard to see the upside of this, but you can’t lose sight of the fact that with this model comes a wide variety of customer connections—many of them mobile—that provide ample opportunity.

Some of the most significant unfold before the customer even reaches the store. GPS and -related technologies allow a store’s owner or manager to locate a customer in real time and help direct the customer to his or her store.

Then there are value card programs that can help a participant gather data on its customers and tailor pricing at the register based on their buying preferences, heightening their loyalty.

The Food Marketing Institute’s 2012 white paper, U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, describes the frequency with which consumers are using technology to check pricing ahead of time as economic forces drive them to seek value through pricing aggregators like It won’t be long before C-operators that have their inventory and pricing strategy together (don’t overlook the value of a good C-store back office system in making this happen) capitalize on these sites to get out ahead of the competition.

Digital transparency can also work “sideways”. For example, Tesco locations check basket prices electronically against competitors and provide vouchers to customers if the item is found cheaper at another store.

It’s a story as old as time—successful operators find opportunity where others see only problems. Digital transparency is no different. It’s a double-edged sword that can be used to your own great advantage.