FEATURE1 December 2009

Once upon a time...

We asked readers to write a short story on the theme of market research in 2029. Rob Edwards’ tale of love, groceries and survey fatigue in the not-too-distant future captured our imaginations.

Seeing right through me

I look out of my kitchen window on the grey street, waiting for the kettle to boil. The windows lightly steam up. The supermarket van pulls up outside the house through an organza haze. The tailgate lowers down to form a ramp and, at speed, a remote trolley descends and speeds towards my front door. My phone buzzes in my pocket. I look at the screen:

Hello Customer #R083r7. Your shopping is at your door. Thank you and don’t forget to complete the customer satisfaction survey. We value your comments. :-)
Telco Supermarkets plc

I go to the front door. Through the frosted glass I can make out a black shape, hard, rectangular, shiny. On opening the door I see a PDA has extended on a telescopic pole from the front of the trolley. The PDA has a screen approximately eight inches by five inches. It invites me to touch the screen, so I do. A picture appears of a female Telco employee.

“Good afternoon shopper, please place your thumb on the screen.” I do so. “Thank you, your receipt will be sent to you shortly.”

The phone buzzes in my pocket. The lid of the trolley opens in two parts, allowing me to start unloading the contents into the hall. “Based on your previous shopping habits we have added the following products to your delivery free of charge: one Ten-Second Sharwoods Radiawave Madras, one Organic Wheat Lager ( 250ml), one Pampers Bio-Papier Mache nappy.” What? A nappy?

“Trolley, why have Telco given me a nappy?” I enquire.

“Your previous shopping habits, demographic data, psychographic profile and behavioural map have indicated through our Lifestage Linked Purchase Model™ that you are going to consume the free curry and lager, meet someone later, have a one-night stand and receive some news from the sexual partner in approximately three weeks which may necessitate this product. Thank you. Please complete the customer satisfaction survey.”

I’m a little shocked – there has obviously been a blip in their analysis. I have been invited to a focus group tonight to discuss perceptions of the Resource War between the Allied US and the New Federal States of Eastern Asia. I finish unloading and close the door on the trolley. My phone buzzes. Two messages: one is the Telco receipt, the other a message to remind me to complete the survey. I delete both and start taking my shopping into the kitchen. My phone rings. “Hello?”

“Good afternoon, we hope that your recent delivery is to your satisfaction. You declined to complete our customer satisfaction survey at the trolley. Do you have two minutes to answer a few short questions to enable us to…” I end the call. My thoughts turn to the recently boiled kettle and a cup of coffee.

Thirty minutes later I have just been dropped off by AutoCabz™ at NeuroLab QualSyn, a research facility on the York University campus where your responses are observed and analysed within cross-reality environments synergising human emotional response with computer-aided modelling analysis. As I approach the entrance, the doors open and a female voice greets me. “Good evening, respondent R083r7. Please go to Studio 12, help yourself to a drink and relax. We are waiting for three other respondents to arrive.”

I walk past the plants and advertising screens, which change as I approach and pass by. I feel cold air suddenly on my back and turn. The doors have opened again and a woman walks in. The voice that greets her is male. She has dark hair cut in a sharp bob, brown eyes and olive skin. She is perfect. “Hi, are you here for the group about the war?” I ask as she approaches.

“Yeah,” she replies, “although I don’t know much about it, but £250 is all right for an hour’s chat isn’t it?” She laughs slightly and smiles. Seems Telco’s analysis was right.