Retail futures, mediated through our phones

I’ve spent the past 18 months working for the “digital arm” of a global telco. They liked to call themselves a digital telco, but I don’t think that means anything.

The bit I worked for no longer technically exists, being absorbed into the even more massive parent company; a robustly traditional telco doing a few digital, webish, appish and big data-y things at the margins.

I worked a bit on a personal data concept, what would be a useful ‘locker’ for real people? I’ll talk about that in a future blog post. Most recently, I’ve spent 6 months on looking at using sensors, data and networks on shops and shopping.

Most of the mobile telcos are doing similar things, as are many startups. I can tell you this though, the efforts of this (and probably all) mobile telcos will make cities basically unlovable if you have an aversion to advertising and ‘offers’, or value your privacy.

The desire for the owners of the data to hook up your location, your past movements, your shopping habits, your phone is very strong. It reeks of money. To pinpoint you in a store, or just passing, and attempt to engage your wallet via personalised messages is quite possible. Cross reference with history, social media data and the rest is a bit further off but probably on everyone’s roadmap.

The slick user story of personalised service, smoothly delivered to the wealthy relaxed consumer as they browse the aisles is seductive. We told ourselves we were “improving” the experience.

The reality is going to be every single store, shouting with a desperate digital screech, delivering invasive messages and insta-deals. Why is this going to happen? Because the mobile telcos are covetous of the advertising business model Google has built, and angry about the close relationship that has grown between phone OS and user.

The telco thinks, “That is MY customer, I deserve to benefit from their activity”. While you, the consumer, is currently their customer - the user they should be delighting - the telcos would much rather not have to worry about that, and instead would like to be in the advertising business where their customers are other big companies and you, the users, are just sold as an audience. The product. I’ve seen the future, and it’s not pretty.