The worst part is the supermarket manager won't even see it coming.
A shopper will saunter over to the kitchen appliances section, whip out their smartphone, scan the UPC symbol on a food processor, and walk out.
What just happened? Their phone just looked up that processor and told the shopper where they can get it within a three-minute walk.
Welcome to the terrifying new world of retail and declining brand loyalty. (This, incidentally, is happening today. Amazon's "Price Check" app does exactly that and more are on the way.)
Maintaining customer loyalty has already become a huge issue in the digital economy and it'll become worse. Retailers will be forced to find new ways to connect with their customers to create lasting, sustainable relationships that can withstand a cheaper price around the block.
It won't be long before we begin seeing entirely new types of jobs dedicated to protecting your brand and fostering customer loyalty in the digital age. One such job we may soon start to see is that of a Loyalty Concierge. We all know the difference a human touch makes -- it's the difference between a mass-text and a personal call, someone answering the phone as opposed to an automated system, a meal prepared at home with someone you love as opposed to fast food from a chain restaurant. The concept of a Loyalty Concierge will be no different. Their job? To identify "loyalty sniping" and counteract it with a deal your customer simply can't resist.
BLAME THE CASINOS
Think about a big Las Vegas casino. Powering those hidden cameras is a huge artificial intelligence software engine; its only job is to identify deceptive patterns in people. A regular, non-deceptive guest might walk in, hover over a blackjack table, play a few rounds, then walk over to the food court. The software might recognize that as matching "Normal Pattern #287" in its database. Now take someone up to no good, who walks in a little faster than everyone else, immediately plays a single large-bet round in Roulette, cashes out, then walks quickly toward the exit -- "Deceptive Pattern #98." A security person would be directed to grab the bad guy. This exists today.
I think in the future, we'll have Loyalty Concierges whose job will be like that software -- to look for cues that a customer is considering making their purchase elsewhere by browsing deals on their smartphone.
Impeccable customer service will be the only way to get the ball back into your court.
Loss Prevention Officers will now be trained to spot people using loyalty sniping apps as much as they're on the hunt for shoplifters. And if they spot a potential sniping in play, they can offer items on the spot -- a coupon for future purchase, a gift, free delivery, free installation for large electronics -- anything that would convince someone to buy there rather than the place down the street who has it a little cheaper.
THE FUTURE OF THE NON-OPTIONAL DATABASE
Worse, for the retailer, this product/price-matching app is a database they must be in if they want to compete. Like today's business/location databases (owned by Yelp, Google, Foursquare, and others), if you're not in the app, you're losing customers. These apps, though, come with positives, including the ability to run extremely time-limited offers ("Get 20% off at the till if you buy within the next 15 minutes.") To say these will be game-changers is an understatement.
Regardless of how this plays out, one thing is clear -- maintaining a good connection between your brand and your customer won't be enough any more. You'll continually have to be strengthening it.
Brands that don't take that seriously may already be on their way to extinction.
Tod Maffin is president of engageQ digital in Toronto and Vancouver. His keynote presentation "One Click Away: Protecting Brand Loyalty in the Digital-Consumer Economy" covers this topic across a variety of industries.
Follow Tod Maffin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/todmaffin