This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

October 3, 2012

Using Mobile Technology to Save Lives

According to a recent article in the "New York Times", every year 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people died last year from contaminated food. Tens of thousands more become ill and do not seek help. Moreover, no supermarket chain is immune, including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Kroger. Food is the top category and pharmaceuticals are the second.

Now, capitalizing on the new digital technologies and the widespread use of Smartphones, comes a groundbreaking solution: notify customers by text on their cell phones. The problems have been lack of knowing who bought what and chains not having cell phones for their customers. However now, loyalty programs keep track of all of our purchases and joining such a program requires the customer to give the store a cell phone to join their loyalty program.

One might expect consumers to object to giving out their mobile numbers. However, 2012 survey by the Social Research Foundation (SRF) suggests that 85 percent of consumers are "somewhat" or "very likely", "to join a retailer's loyalty club, if they offer this product recall service as a free feature".

Other findings include the fact that, while consumers are generally understanding when a product is recalled, they are not satisfied that they are being properly informed---with the depth of information and the timeliness of receiving notice. In addition, 60 percent of respondents said that they were more likely to choose a retailer that offered such a service and 75 percent said they are "very likely" or "likely" to recommend the retailer to friends.

Finally, the alert will contain a link to an official page with further instructions, coupons, etc. SRF can provide a turnkey solution or help integrate it into a chain’s own system, streaming recall alerts to the chain from all federal and state agencies involved.

Interestingly, consumers viewed retailers offering this service as "caring about me and my family” and were "more likely to shop at that retailer".

Though this type of innovation is not using newly created technology, it is nonetheless an important breakthrough. We expect to see more uses of existing digital technologies to save lives in all kinds of ways.

For more information, call Andrew Mallon, Executive Director, Social Research Foundation at 718-793-9400 or email him at

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