"Making Data Mining a Natural Part of Life: Physical Retailing, Customer Surveillance and the 21st Century Social Imaginary." European Journal of Cultural Studies, 2015.

Joseph Turow, Lee McGuigan, and Elena R. Maris

This article examines corporate struggles to reorganize retail environments around the data capturing and processing affordances of digital media. We argue that ongoing transformations in digital retailing reflect and extend the rise of social discrimination around what might be called ‘the quantified individual’. By quantified individual, we mean the hyperfocus on the qualities of the individual person rather than on even the communities or segments relating to people. Drawing on the writings of Charles Taylor, Antonio Gramsci, and Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, we use the ongoing corporate refashioning of the general meaning of ‘loyalty’ via the discourses and technologies of retailing as an important example of how a new social imaginary takes form and instantiates social discrimination as normal. For consumers, mobile apps and social-media profiles become venues for performing loyalty and accumulating rewards. For retailers and marketers, digitalized storefronts become like factories for generating data about where individuals go, what they buy and how firms define them. The process is transforming the architecture of physical and digital retailing, and the relationship between the two, in ways that make the selling environment increasingly dynamic and mutable for the individual prospect. We argue that shorn from their 20th century role in the democratization of pricing, stores will become centers of discrimination-related stress as dueling shopper and retailer technologies reach sometimes diverging conclusions about how to encourage loyalty, whom to reward for loyalty, and how.