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Cheddar has an interview with Stew Leonard, Jr., CEO of the iconic Connecticut-based retail stores, in which he expresses his concerns about Amazon’s growing presence in the food business, especially with its acquisition of Whole Foods.

According to the story, he told Cheddar “that one of his biggest concerns is the amount of ‘data mining’ the tech giant will be able to do. He gives an example of what information Amazon might be able to get if it offered one of his company’s famous perks.

“You take your receipt up to our ice cream parlor, you give it to them, and you get a free cone if you spend over $100. We don’t know who that customer is, it’s really like a UFO. Whole Foods is going to know exactly who that customer is: they’re going to know how they shop, what types of foods they’re buying.”

This could, he said “give Amazon an advantage in how it markets to its customer.”
KC's View:
Actually, I’ll take it one step farther than that.

It will give Amazon an advantage … one that it will not hesitate to exploit over and over and over.

I want to be fair to Stew here, so let me say at the outset that I’ve been shopping at Stew Leonard’s original Norwalk, Connecticut, store for more than 30 years. (I once did the calculations. Conservatively, I’ve spent a minimum of $150 a week, 48 weeks a year, for 30 years … which adds up to $216,000. Which means that if I had cashed in all those receipts for free ice cream cones, I’d probably be about 400 pounds.) I’m not just a Stew Leonard’s customer. I’m a fan … I think in many ways, it is the very definition of a unique, differentiated retail offering.

That said … if after more than 30 years I stopped shopping at Stew’s, they wouldn’t know it. They’d never send me an email or make a phone call to ask what changed, or if I’ve made a decision to shop elsewhere.

Unlike Amazon … which knows exactly what I am spending, what I’m spending it on, and how often. I know this because they reach out to me all the time. There’s every reason to think that when they turn Prime into Whole Foods’ loyalty program, they’ll extend this capability to Whole Foods.

But if Stew Leonard’s doesn’t know, it is because they’ve made a decision not to know. There are a lot of reasons - some of them even are perfectly legitimate - not to have any sort of program that creates actionable data and then acts on it. But this is a choice, not an inevitable fact of retail life.