Putting Consumer Behavior in Context

Loyalty marketing is built on the desire to better understand consumers, their aspirations and their demands. But the brass ring has always been the ability to anticipate consumer needs – by location, time and delivery.

For many of us, it can be an elusive goal. Consumers are a finicky bunch in the best of times. Throw in an unexpected lifestyle change and their activities and goals are suddenly altered dramatically.

So let’s thank all those math wizards, science fair winners and general computer geeks for technology. They make our task so much easier.

Take, most recently, the example of context-aware computing. This is a technology, enabled through smartphones, wherein small sensors can identify a user’s location, preferences, environment and other activities. As a result, they ideally could foresee a consumer’s needs and proactively respond.

According to a story in the Globe & Mail, the research firm Gartner Inc. predicts context-aware computing “will be one of the biggest technology trends of 2012 and says that by 2015, context-aware systems will account for $96 billion of annual consumer spending, with 40 percent of smartphone users around the world choosing to use services that track their activities.”

Who wants to wait that long? This technology would enable merchants to offer products that are relevant geographically and by the hour. But it also can inspire consumers to live healthier, since the devices could gather information about what we eat and our activities. The potential opportunities are endless.

The key challenge will be storing and protecting the data. But through responsible collection of information – which means gather only the data you need and never abuse the consumer’s trust – we are halfway there.

Either way, the choice is the consumers’. Technology such as context-aware computing is emerging for a reason. If consumers want to receive offers from Best Buy when driving within a mile of the store, or choose to have restaurant recommendations sent to them when they are in a new city based on their home-town habits, it is no longer a fantasy.

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