I’ve already given this idea to the on-duty manager of the grocery store where I shop but she probably filed it under looney ideas gleaned from talkative old men in the checkout line and did little or nothing else with it, so I’m offering it to any of my programmer friends who might want to make a name for themselves and in the process create a useful tool for crazies like me who look for innovative ways to use our Internet connection. I, like most everybody else and maybe even you, dutifully hand the cashier my “value card” as he or she is about to ring up my purchases so that I can get the discounts that accrue from having given them my name and address and having allowed them to tag me with a unique Customer ID. They use it, among other things, to print out a listing of the items I have purchased that day, neatly categorized into sections like Produce, Package Meat, Grocery, Frozen Food, Dairy, Candy/Gum, etc., and at the conclusion of that listing they announce that Your Savings Today was $7.48 on my most recent (9/16/07) expenditure of $56.66. I walk away, informed and satisfied that it could have been at least $7.48 worse.
Now I’m reasonably sure that’s not all they do with the information gathered from scanning the bar codes of my purchases and pairing them with my unique Customer ID. Quite likely, they use the information to update their records that I made off with one bottle of Tide laundry detergent, thus depleting their supply, and conclude they should replenish that item at that particular store. And throughout their supply chain they use my data to inform their business partners of my shopping behavior. But as far as I am concerned, my data is lost forever in the supply chain. It’s not available for me to use any more.
So here’s my idea. Let me see the accumulated information the store collects on me. Many of my purchases are cyclical. For instance, I buy deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream, milk, and laundry detergent on some regular interval. How often? I don’t know, but I’ll bet the store knows, if they wanted to look. They have a web site, and I’m pleased to report they do offer a way for me to look up weekly specials on that web site and create a shopping list from them. But if I were able to log into their web site with my unique Customer ID (and a password I chose), I could discover it was about time for me to buy more shampoo or deodorant, and creating a shopping list on their web site would be enhanced by becoming a simple matter of checking off items and specific brands that I normally buy.
To me, it seems there must be a database that contains all that information and it can’t be all that difficult to make access to the data available on the web to the customer who helped to create it. Or said in another way in the hypothetical words of Moses Schwartz, my local mythical grocer, “Let my data go.” Make it easier for me to spend my money with you! And if you build it on the web, I promise you I will come.