Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
Last Sunday, I was simultaneously amazed and creeped out at what my iPhone did without me asking. Retailers considering location-based marketing, pay heed.
In the legendary 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi film “The Terminator” and its sequels, machines have become so smart that they become sentient. The machines of the Earth determine man to be a threat and launch all of the Cold War superpowers’ nuclear missiles, killing most human beings, leaving only small pockets of rebel fighters to try to destroy the machines and retake the Earth.
Last Sunday morning, while my partner was brushing all the snow off the car so we could go to brunch, I was waiting in the car and decided to pull out my iPhone and check my e-mail. I accidentally swiped down from the very top of the screen, an action that displays a pull-down screen that lists all kinds of current information, such as the date, time, upcoming appointments and weather conditions (see picture). My iPhone pull-down screen said it was 11:15am, the date was Sunday Jan. 26, it was mostly cloudy and 18 degrees with an expected high of 28 degrees, and that I had to call my friend Bart at 1pm. Oh, and one other thing: It said, “Right now, it would take you about 11 minutes to drive to 5209 North Clark Street.”
My eyes just about popped out of my head. You see, for years, like clockwork, my partner and I have had brunch every Saturday and Sunday around 11am at Ann Sather, a restaurant on North Clark Street in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. I’ve never once input a calendar event saying so, no need. I’ve never once used either of the maps apps to show me the route, no need. The only thing I’ve ever input into my iPhone about Ann Sather is an entry in my Contacts, and that was ages ago. But last Sunday, at 11:15am, my iPhone knew I was getting ready to do brunch and told me, without me asking, how long it would take me to get there.
That amazed me and creeped me out at the same time. My iPhone has been keeping a very close eye on me. In order for the device to have pulled this off, it has to have a historical record of my every precise GPS location down to at least every hour of every day. And that record must be extensive enough from which to draw extraordinarily accurate conclusions. Such as if it’s Sunday around 11am, Bill is going to Ann Sather.
A retailer once told me, You can’t just flip the switch on location-based marketing, you’ll scare people. That retailer suggested gently easing consumers into location-aware and personalized messages by being a bit vague at first and then slowly make things more and more precise. There’s a big difference between sending a consumer with your mobile app on her phone a push message as she enters your store saying, “There’s a big sale in the mattress department today, 50% off” versus sending her a push message while she’s in the fragrance department saying, “Hi, Susie, the perfume you always buy is immediately to your left, and here’s a coupon for 30% off.” The wrong approach could cause your customers to turn off the GPS features of your app.
I’m still trying to decide about that iPhone message from Sunday. On the one hand, it’s extraordinarily convenient to have precisely what I need with just one swipe. On the other hand, do corporations need to know, quite literally, my every move? I suppose I fall on the side of those who say in this day and age you can forget about privacy. I think the benefits of mobile technology outweigh the risks. I waited decades after first seeing Star Trek and Star Wars and all kinds of sci-fi for the invention of what ultimately would come to be called a smartphone. I can’t live without it today. If that means sacrificing some privacy, so be it. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone is as generous with their privacy as me.
But not to worry, the machines have not yet become sentient, they have not started an assault on mankind. Man still beats machine. Wanna know how I know? Because my regular brunch spot, the Ann Sather on North Clark Street, closed Jan. 5!
P.S. An industry pro who read this blog post sent me some simple instructions. For those of you with iPhones, you should navigate your way to this destination. In Settings, go to Privacy, then go to Location Services, then go to System Services (which is all the way at the bottom), and then go to Frequent Locations. Surprise!