I do much of my grocery shopping at Giant Eagle. In the warmer months, we get a weekly goody bag of fruit and veggies from a local farmer as part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) But most of the year, we’re lured to Giant Eagle because of the discounts it offers regular shoppers and the wide selection of gluten-free and organic food.

I have a rewards-related credit card associated with the company, which bestows discounts at all branded stores. When consumers with reward cards patronize the company’s gas stations with car washes, and grocery and convenience stores — taking advantage of many of the weekly specials — it really adds up. Our family has saved almost $2,000 in the past year. My local Giant Eagle grocery store has a Starbucks inside, too, so I sip coffee as I shop. (And all spending, even on my beloved java, is counted toward a discount on gas when I fill up.) Lovely.

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about targeted marketing and customized perks based on buying habits. Of course Giant Eagle is tracking everything I buy. Otherwise, it couldn’t offer me every fifth cup of coffee free (which is tracked electronically on my rewards card). And it also wouldn’t know to give me $2.21 off the last tank of gas I filled up with, based on the amount I had spent — and saved on — in-store grocery specials. Nor, would the company be able to tell me that I’d saved $1,996.75 through the various perks and savings and other tied-discounts it offers customers who take the time to look for those deals.

Of course, the company is keeping very close dibs on me, mainly, to serve itself. And I feel more than a little conflicted about this.

In an era filled with consumer scoring, from Klout to frequent flyer perks to special grocery store offers, it makes me a wee wistful for the days when we were all more anonymous. I love the treats that come from being a “regular.” There’s nothing new in that. It’s a concept even older than tabs the barkeep ran for local cowboys whetting their whistles in the saloons. Their chums knew them. The bar keep knew them. But no one else did (except the Sheriff, who likely also knew the shady ones…)

Nowadays, though, we need to realize that to snag perks that come from being “score-able” we trade-off the ability to be unknown. The benefits that come with being a good customer in this era means we have given up enough privacy that our service providers are able to know, accurately, what kind of customers we are. They know when we shop. What we buy. And where we live, among other things. That brings me to the hummus and the organic apples.

Today in the mail (snail mail, interestingly), Giant Eagle sent me coupons truly customized for me. They fit my buying habits. And they give $1 or more on things I already buy frequently, such as “loose organic apples” and “Market District hummus” and other specific items I buy. (They know this, of course, because it’s monitored, recorded and parsed.)

I was pleased and a little freaked out all at the same time. I didn’t ask for these or even know they were coming.

There’s no going back to a time when this kind of thing won’t happen. Now, no matter what the venue, customers who are deemed more valuable, loyal or otherwise influential are wooed. They have more Klout. And technology makes this possible to track and act upon.

Still, it makes me aware that with great advances technology brings, we need to be careful how the data are collected, used and analyzed. It’s innocent enough to give me $5 off my apples and hummus and other items. It’s more complicated and perhaps more concerning, though, as the special deals offered to consumers become increasingly targeted and connected to their behavior and choices — and to their personal information and social scores, online or offline. I wonder if related technology will make more polarized and striated our society, which, to my mind, is already experiencing a too-wide gulf in income and with access to medical care and quality, public education and job prospects.

I just finished Mark W. Schaefer’s excellent book on influence and social scoring called Return on Influence. Undoubtedly, this is why the issue was top of mind. So many aspects of this trend are wonderful and open up opportunities for sellers that make their jobs more efficient and cost-effective and for buyers that make their experiences more fun and rewarding. (Could this technology give rise to marketing that’s so targeted it ends junk mail someday? Well, we can hope!)

Technology and social media enable amazing access and reach. And social media is a great equalizer in many respects — you don’t need an Ivy League degree or the “right” pedigree to influence on social media. You do need to reach and interact with an influential audience that finds you and your content that way, too, and that shares your content and comments on your blog posts. This is among the points that Return on Influence makes so well.

Yet even though the power hierarchy of decades past doesn’t apply in the same way today, segregation between the haves and have-nots or between the influencers and those without influence continues. It just looks different.

I am going to go buy my apples, hummus and other items and happily claim my discount at Giant Eagle. (I’m seeing if I can get my 12 month savings to $2,500. And I’m thinking of approaching the company to tell them about my quest, blog about it and see what else that yields…) But I remain mindful of the power that modern-day consumers can amass as influencers. It’s great for marketers. And great for some consumers. But maybe not so much for others.

As this power gets shaped and grows I believe we should be aware of, if not concerned about, the gulf. I love the concept of using social media for social good, where access increases so the benefits from technological innovations spread. Anyway, that’s part of my goal in working with and through social media.

The question is: Can this be done? And, if so, how?

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You can see my full social presence at http://XeeMe.com/beckygaylord