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As technology applications in retailing march on apace, soon people may find walking past an advertising hoarding will be more than just a glance. It could produce an instantly personalised advertisement just for them!

Adidas and Kraft Foods are preparing facial recognition cameras that note people looking at ads as they go past within 20 feet, and send details of a person’s length of nose and hair, height and distance between eyes to a database which calculates the age of the person. They reckons it’s accurate to within 5 years.

The system then switches the ad to something it believes the target will be interested in buying. Aware of criticism of manipulation, they are keeping about a third of the ads as random ones. After all, sometimes people shop for others.

The food ads will probably initially be in freezer cabinets and kiosks, but it’s only a matter of time before they are everywhere, in shops and without. It means that every journey through any retailing opportunities, will be a rapidly changing personalised experience designed to part people from their money more efficiently.

Is it a retailing development to be welcomed?

In late August 2011, consultancy Deloitte[1] published a survey of 4000 British consumers and reported half simultaneously watched television and surfed the net. The immediate response might be to assume people were plugging into social media while watching soap, game shows, reality TV or more repeats.

In fact, most were internet shopping. Below that, came communication like emailing, and only after that was social networking. Other figures suggest that the old business argument that one sector (online adverts) can only grow at the expense of another (television ads) is not borne out. The fact is, that technology is an evolving outlet for all forms of advertising.

And most consumers seem happy with that, at least!

The management consultancy, McKinsey[2], concluded in August that the internet alone (never mind its permutations in technologically advanced applications) contributed 11% of GDP UK growth in the past 5 years. Google commissioned Boston Consulting Group[3], who found the internet contributed more to the British GDP than construction, transport or utility industries in 2009, and this was continuing to rise.

Businesses who use technology and the web effectively and taxpayers counting taxes pouring into Britain are also well contented to watch the net grow and succeed.

[1] Deloitte – Increased sales of tablet computers drive shopping in advertising breaks.
[2] McKinsey and Company – Internet Matters: The net’s sweeping impact on growth, jobs and prosperity.
[3] Boston Consulting Group – The Connected Kingdom: How the internet is transforming the U.K. economy.