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Advantage Clubs – To Whose Advantage?

‘Advantage clubs’, including self-scanning features, are popping up high speed. Smart – since few people like to waste more time than necessary in the supermarket queue. “Instead, you can spend your time doing exactly what makes sense to you”, Coop tells us in the description of their Scan & Pay app (own translation). But just how smart are these systems – for us customers?

Most people probably know that apps like Spotify or Netflix collect data about the music we listen to or the videos we watch, and that they suggest (more of the same) music for us to listen to next. Or that social media – based on data about us – sorts the content that appears in our news streams. Exactly how the different apps work we usually don’t know, as the specific algorithms are hidden – but overall, advantage clubs (or customer clubs, loyalty programs) with self-scanning features seem to work in the same way: They collect data about what we usually buy and present us with offers on the items we usually buy.

Social media has long been criticised for ‘sameness’ by serving us more, more and more of the same, thus excluding us from other opinions, other knowledge about the world, etc. We are being wrapped into our own little news bubbles. Now, sameness has also moved into the supermarket, which is potentially both encouraging unvaried diets and is rather discriminating against us customers: Buy smoked salmon and you will be presented with offers on more smoked salmon. Buy salty fish and you will be presented with offers on more salty fish. If you tend to often buy healthy organic products, you are encouraged to buy more healthy organic products, and if you tend to often buy pasta with ketchup and red sausages, you are encouraged to buy more of it. You are encouraged to live in your own little shopping bubble.

For whom are they an advantage?
“Hi! Don’t forget to log in to see your personal offers and bonus balance”, Coop, a huge supermarket chain, writes in a pop-up message when you click into their website (my translation), and my answer is: “Hi! We’re some people who don’t want to log in, who don’t want personal offers, and who don’t want to give our data away for bonuses”.

When we shop, we are faced with a huge amount of clubs collecting and using all the data they can get their hands on, and I would very much not like to be part of it. Yet, I still like to get out of the queue quickly, and I would also like to help supermarkets produce statistics on purchases that e.g. can be used to minimize waste of resources. Can I do that without the other tracking stuff?

Aren’t we ethically and intelligently ready for an un-personalized self-scanning app that lets us checkout quick and easily without having to join some kind of ‘advantage club’ that grasps all of our data? I mainly see disadvantages.

Note: In this article, Coop’s app is used as one example among many.

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