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Walmart Just Came Up With an Idea That Will Make Customers Really Miserable

Inc. logo Inc. 2017-08-12 Chris Matyszczyk
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Watch out. There might be a camera in the shopping cart.

Should some ideas be left on the shelf? Try telling that to those who think they know the future.

Some ideas smack of genius.

Others, you just want to smack.

You must decide which is more accurate when I tell you about an idea that has just emerged from the bowels of Walmart's cranium. (Can a cranium have a bowel? -Ed.)

The famed Arkansas-based retailer has, according to the Wall Street Journal, applied for a patent that will burrow deep into customers' emotions.

This fine facial-recognition technology will have one aim -- to work out whether customers are happy. Or not.

The Journal declares that if the Walmart's razorback eye detects an unhappy customer, it will "adjust staffing accordingly."

Because, of course, the one sure way to make someone happy is to for them enjoy adjusted staffing at Walmart.

I'm reminded of sitting next to a couple in a restaurant. They hadn't spoken in a while.

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Suddenly, the woman said to the man: "It's not the beef bourguignon, Dennis. It's the last 26 years."

The churlish, you see, would suggest that at least some customers are unhappy at Walmart simply because, well, they're having to shop at Walmart.

I wouldn't sink to such besmirchment. Instead, I'd suggest that, even in America, not everyone's unhappiness can be solved by consumerism.

How will this technology decide whether a customer is unhappy because they can't find the right, say, handgun rather than because they're in a terrible relationship with a lover who is more inconsiderate than a celebrity chef post-cocaine?

I envision embarrassing moments when Walmart staff at the checkout try to anticipate a customer's feelings.

They'll say, with a concerned expression: "I'm sorry you didn't like any of the water crackers on offer," only to receive the reply: "Water crackers? I'm about to have hemorrhoid surgery."

Technology, though it protests the opposite, cannot solve all human problems. Humans aren't all that good at recognizing the emotions of other humans, but human-made technology is?

Is it beyond the experience of Walmart's executives to imagine that people are miserable one day and less miserable the next?

Oh, but perhaps they're so frightened of Amazon and other competition that the only emotion that courses through them is neurosis.

Indeed, the patent filing offers that the technology will track how much customers are spending over time. "Significant drops or complete absence of customers spending (..) may be identified," it says.

Oh, yes. They must make customers happy all the time or that customer will leave them.

Dear Walmart, please let me offer some relationship advice. Sometimes, you just have to have faith in yourself. Or, as 1,423,760 self-help book authors have already put it: "You have to love yourself."

Otherwise, you'll come across as frightfully needy.

Which, even if you are, isn't a good look.

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