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Is Tesco's targeting offensive kind of ... offensive?

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Tesco products run the price gamut
Tesco products run the price gamut

Tesco has proverbial shopping carts full of data about its customers — and the U.K.-based grocery chain just announced it's going to really start using it. The super-brand will mine the information it gleans from the Tesco Clubcard loyalty program to target customers and personalize their Web experiences based on past purchases and exhibited proclivities.

According to the International Supermarket News (yes, there is such a thing), there are roughly 18 million Clubcard users in Tesco's system.

Simply put: If you've got cash, you'll be wined and dined. If you don't, it's bangers and mash out of a can. When moneyed customers visit the Tesco website, they'll see selected products from Tesco Finest, the brand's luxury range of products. When less wealthy visitors log onto the site, they'll automatically be presented with items from the Tesco Value line, a collection of products whose utilitarian packaging was about as buoying as a Depression-era bread line. (I say “was” because Tesco is reportedly scrapping its old blue and red no-frills label for a new, more colorful one soon in conjunction with changing the name of Tesco Value to Everyday Value. Big diff.)

The stated goal is to serve Tesco shoppers with more targeted information geared to their specific needs. Says Tesco CEO Philip Clarke: Back in the '80s, most neighborhood grocers knew their customers by face, name and/or purchase preference. Such a thing isn't possible with a brand as big as Tesco, which makes this digital effort the next best thing.

The problem is, what if, like The Daily Mail pointed out, a shopper prefers to mix and match? Some customers will shell out top dollar for up-market meat or fancy preserves and then buy value salt or milk. People are more complicated in their tastes and purchase patterns that just “rich” and “less well off.”

I used to be a Tesco customer myself back when I lived in Dublin, Ireland in 2008 pursing a degree in journalism, and I fit the description above to a Tesco Finest teabag. Not quite a penniless student, but at the same time not quite rich (the dollar-to-euro exchange rate was not in my favor in 2008), I'd buy fancy, expensive juices and ginger ale, because I really like juice and ginger ale. Then I'd nip over to the Value aisle and grab a 12-pack of Tesco Value salt and vinegar potato chips. Don't judge me.

Consumer profiling isn't a new thing, targeting done well is a good idea for retailers and, of course, it's important to personalize — all true. But a brand definitely doesn't want to offend its customers in the process of trying to serve them.

More on Tesco.

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