Data Sharing: It's What's For Dinner

A major prize is surely waiting for the person who figures out a way to precisely measure the financial impact of wireless communication devices on consumer spending activities during shopping trips.

I see it happening routinely in the grocery store where I work. A huge percentage of customers are conversing on their phones as they stroll through the aisles. If you're someone who finds this trend annoying, I'm sorry to tell you, there's no turning back. Just about everybody seems to be talking, and many of the conversations revolve around what items look good, or don't.

In my venue, the peak period for wireless point-of-sale commerce is late afternoon and much of the data sharing originates at the deli counter. Shoppers heading home from work are often feeling too tired to cook. We offer a wide selection of menu items to solve that problem. And thanks to modern technology, impulse buying decisions can now be made collectively so the entire household is satisfied.

Is the family in a mood for Asian quinoa salad, or would they prefer a kale and broccoli mix? When in doubt, snap a photo of the platter and send it home for a vote. Images of our culinary creations are flying through the air day after day.

The ongoing task for retailers in this Candid Camera world is making sure their product displays are in picture-perfect condition, or close to it, all the time. A bowl of salad or tray of meatballs that's been seriously depleted is definitely not photogenic. When customers are scanning a deli case for mealtime inspiration, the items need to look abundant and appetizing.

Even when the presentation is great, phoning home may not result in a quick purchasing decision. But the ease of 21st century communication now makes it possible for third parties (i.e. employees handling the transaction) to provide helpful intervention. This happened to me recently at the meat counter when a man was on the phone conversing with his wife about buying some beef tenderloin for a dinner party.

He asked her questions and relayed the information to me, and for a few moments we went back and forth about how many pieces they would need, how much each piece weighed and could we get more from the back? Finally, the man handed the phone to me and said, "Here, can you please talk to her?"

It took a couple of minutes but, with help from my co-workers who quickly prepared some new pieces (she wanted all the tenderloin freshly cut once that option was offered), I closed the deal.

This is the new normal for many businesses. It can be stressful but I always keep in mind the favorite phrase of Tim Gunn on Project Runway: "Come on people -- make it work!" Our modern methods of connecting can create spontaneous opportunities to make sales that might otherwise be lost, or never pursued in the first place.

Maybe there's no way to calculate how often this is happening across the U.S. each day and how many extra dollars it pumps into the daily sales reports. While analytical experts ponder that question, I'm already thinking about the next phase of communication advances.

Will a day come when mobile devices will be able to transmit other sensory perceptions like taste and smell? I envision customers at the deli case setting up conference calls, popping samples into their mouths and then asking, "What do you all think? Too much cilantro? You want to try the Shepard's Pie?"

It's only a dream now, but definitely a dream worth savoring.