These Boots were made for stalking
This issue Ken is putting the boot(s) into…
Recommendations are part and parcel of online shopping. I’m sure you’ve experienced them. Add a tube of Polos to your basket and you’re likely to be informed that customers who bought mints also bought a dozen different types of cure for halitosis and a copy of Dating after 50 for Dummies (which is actually a real book, £15.99 on Amazon: www.snipca.com/25905).
These recommendations are sometimes useful, sometimes amusing and sometimes downright embarrassing.
Here’s something that happened to me last winter. I went Amazon shopping for a matching woolly hat and scarf. Innocuous enough, you might think. But at some point I made the mistake of clicking a picture of a balaclava that popped up as a recommendation. I didn’t want a balaclava but I just found the thumbnail image faintly amusing. Then idle curiosity saw me click another recommendation, and then another, and yet another, until I got bored and went back to hats and scarves.
For weeks afterwards my Amazon page was littered with recommendations for balaclavas and — worse — some curiouslooking rubber masks the purpose of which I’d rather not know. These appeared because, I assume, they were bought by some people who also bought balaclavas. Moreover, because of the way the modern web works, these recommendations began to appear as adverts on random websites. Sure enough, one day a recommendation for some funny face-wear popped up on my screen just as Mrs Rigsby brought me a cup of tea. That morning, our elevenses pleasantries were rather awkward.
All of this brings me to Boots. Remember when Boots was called Boots the Chemists? It was set up in the 1800s by farm worker John Boot, originally to hawk traditional remedies like herbs and leeches. Mr Boot later became a bona fide chemist, and his reputation is untainted.
But the modern Boots is a plaything in the hands of investment bankers, and their latest money-making wheeze — coming to a store near you in time for Christmas — is an app that tracks your location and buzzes your smartphone with personalised offers the moment you walk through the door.
This kind of technology isn’t new. Supermarket loyalty cards, for example, let stores gather loads of information about you and your shopping habits. In exchange, you get an occasional few pennies off your bill.
But this latest idea from Boots feels a step too far. I’m just about OK with the concept that a shop might have gathered enough data about me to know that in winter I regularly suffer from a dodgy tummy, and so sends me some discount vouchers through the post. But I certainly don’t want my smartphone sounding a klaxon every time I wander past the diarrhoea pills in Boots.
In fact, to me Boots’ invention feels like one of those overbearing salesmen who’s on top of you as soon as you walk into the store. Except this peddler lives in your back pocket and makes your backside vibrate the moment he smells a sale.
I liked Boots when it was Boots the Chemist. But Boots the Snoops? Not so much. The days when Boots was run by a farmhand flogging quack cures are long gone. But I think I’d prefer the naive belief in snake oil to this era of leeches who want to grow fat by sucking my personal information and movements.
Boots’ latest moneymaking wheeze is an app that buzzes your phone with offers when you walk in