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Supermarkets Could Soon Manipulate Where You Walk in Store, Send Coupons to Smartphones

You walk into the local supermarket, list in hand. Eggs, milk, bread, some pork chops and steaks, cereal, potatoes, fruit, and what the heck, maybe a bag of chips. You know the routine: with basic meat, bread and dairy necessities strategically set up around the perimeter, you'll have to pass by a host of other items on the way there and back.

The grocery store setup has worked this way for years, seemingly eons. Is it time for an update – an effort by stores to not only set up the basic staples on the perimeter but to guide customers through the store like rats through a maze? Today’s technology says yes, especially if the industry pays heed to a recent study done by Jeffrey Inman from the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh. With the help of modern store coupons deliverable by smartphone and RFID tags latched on to customer backpacks and clothing to track their movement through the store, Inman boiled it all down to the nitty-gritty details.

“Stores do scatter products, but what they’re not doing is that idiosyncratic delivery of personal coupons via smart phone,” Inman says.

Over several weeks and hundreds of shoppers at two major supermarket chain stores in Oregon and Pennsylvania, Inman found that a typical shopper spends precisely $1 above his planned budget for every 55 feet (or, say, 20 paces) he walks in the store. That finding comes from pre-shopping interviews on planned purchases, RFID tracking to trace his movements through the store, and then an inspection of receipts afterward.

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