business news in context, analysis with attitude

CNN has a story about a possible new solution for retailers who feel they have to lock up certain products because of theft, which alienates actual customers who hate the inconvenience of having to ask employees for assistance in getting access to those items.

According to the story, some stores are "testing a security tool that lets customers use their cell phone to unlock products on the shelf. It’s essentially self-service for unlocking display cases — in exchange for a customer’s phone number.

"The touch screen, called the 'Freedom Case,' allows customers to use their cell phone number, a retailer’s app, or a store loyalty card to unlock a display case and access locked merchandise. Shoppers select an option on the display case and then receive a text message with a four-digit code to let them open the case … The device also gives customers the option to request an employee open the display without giving any information, as they did before."

Among the companies reportedly testing the technology are Kroger, Safeway, Lowe’s, Raley’s and Schnucks.

KC's View:

CNN makes the point that the customer’s phone number is “used solely for the purpose of accessing the merchandise and no other purpose," which I suppose is a good thing.

But I wonder if this actually misses an opportunity - if retailers make this technology available exclusively to their best customers, and do so in the context of clear communications explaining why the cases are locked and how shrink leads to higher prices, then it seems to me that there is at least the possibility of creating stronger connections with shoppers.  I don't think offerings like these should exist in a vacuum, siloed off from other operational elements.  In fact, they should be integrated into the larger value proposition, at least as much as possible.