The Programmatic Consumer

Posted on Posted in Ecommerce

Many marketers are still struggling to fully grasp the implications of programmatic advertising. They need to pick up the pace because a new consumer phenomenon is emerging. 

According to a recent report from Forrester, less than 50% of marketers claim to truly understand programmatic techniques in advertising. Yet, while the laggards are still getting their heads around dynamic methods for buying ads, their customers are beginning to acquire similar capabilities to automate decisions about what they buy.

Unsurprisingly, large retailers are leading the way, including the much maligned UK grocery giant, Tesco. The team at Tesco Labs are trialling yet another neat innovation by the adding If This Then That (IFTTT) capabilities to their ecommerce system.

The elevator pitch is simple. Customers will be able to 'programme' their grocery orders using simple rules, making shopping easier and more efficient. In addition to smaller grocery bills, the potential benefits include fewer forgotten items, less wastage and more timely deliveries of important or perishable products. 

For those who haven't yet experienced the joys of IFTTT—pronounced like "gift" without the G—it’s a software service that monitors linked accounts, or Channels, to automatically perform predefined actions when specified triggers occur. In plain English, if this thing occurs, then automatically do this other thing.

As the array of accounts with which IFTTT can interact has grown, so too has the list of novel uses. With more data sources, the rules can be more complex.  Tesco's imaginative approach is potentially one of the most significant. While still very much at a nascent stage, and arguably little more than a niche curiosity at the moment, This surely heralds the genesis of a new mainstream phenomenon; the programmatic consumer. 

Tesco have published a few simple examples(See below) to show in practical terms how the capability might be used. They've also  very wisely reached out to crowdsource further suggestions from the public.  


With my geek hat on, I'm rather excited about the idea of applying a bit of Boolean logic to the mundane task of buying provisions. Through the addition of just a few data sources, a huge amount of fun could be had with this functionality. It's easy to imagine a plethora of buying decisions becoming programmatic.

The simplest would rely largely on clever scheduling and price watching routines, such as programming an order for Valentine's Day flowers to be placed early enough to ensure a timely delivery but late enough to enjoy some last minute discounts. A further level of sophistication would achieved by adding data from automated home systems, facilitating the purchase of light bulbs, water filters and washing powder.

The scope for clever purchasing broadens even further when you factor in datasets from wearable tech. How might your grocery shopping change if your food were to be ordered with due consideration for the amount of cardio-vascular exercise you've undertaken, your BMI or the amount of cholesterol in your blood?  Health and wellbeing benefits are easy to imagine and coupled with potential domestic procurement efficiencies (i.e. "saving money"), it's easy to see how mainstream audiences might embrace this technology.

But there's an even more sophisticated approach that will surely evolve, bringing new commercial and societal nuances to the concept of the programmatic consumer.

If you take all the aforementioned data sources and add to them triggers and thresholds relating to content consumption and social media, a profoundly different picture emerges:

Some plausible scenarios might include:

Select the brandy that has the highest rated reviews online and purchase a bottle one week before the birthday of [friend/relative]. Repeat annually.

Or, more alarmingly...

IF this brand/style of skirt is liked by at least half of my friends on Facebook AND falls below [PRICE POINT] before next Friday, THEN purchase.

It really doesn't take long to compile a long list of possible applications for this kind of technique that will completely change the way we shop. Indeed, I predict the start of an entirely new marketing discipline; providing software, data and analyses to help consumers optimise their shopping.

To be clear, this is not simply a matter of enabling customers to get better prices.

Nope. We have to take a wider view of human decision making to consider the implications. We'll begin to use multiple rules and data sources to (in industry speak) 'optimise' more nuanced and subtle  KPIs such as personal happiness, influence and status. We'll soon see the rise of digital shopping tools that make recommendation engines look crude and outdated.