Today's Special: Your Consumer Data

SAN FRANCISCO (01/28/2000) - Those Webvans will have some new passengers soon: the Pillsbury Doughboy and that guy on the Quaker Oats box. This week, Webvan announced marketing alliances with major food manufacturers such as Pillsbury, Kellogg, Nestle and Quaker Oats. The delivery companies Peapod and Streamline.com have already made similar deals. Welcome to a whole new world of marketing.

Right now, the manufacturers get these alliances cheap, wrote Forbes' Penelope Patsuris, but that will change when online grocers master one-to-one marketing.

Then, she speculated, e-grocers will sell their data "at a premium." For instance, some customers buy both diapers and beer, but not enough customers do so to make an in-store joint promotion worth the effort. Online, however, it's relatively simple to set up a Web page just for drinking parents. The diapers-and-beer scenario is supposedly "classic" in marketing, but Grok wonders if it's the best example. New parents might be happy to save on Bud, but they might also be embarrassed that their stores know so much about them.

The Wall Street Journal's George Anders talked to officials at the manufacturing companies about their marketing ideas. They could show different Web pages (and thus different promotions) to families and singles. Or send free samples to customers who already buy similar products. The manufacturers "said such highly targeted marketing will have to be done without being intrusive," wrote Anders. Webvan swears that, contrary to Patsuris' vision for online grocers, it won't sell data on customers' shopping habits, nor will it let its partners e-mail Webvan customers directly.

However, Webvan doesn't currently offer an easy opt-out box on its site, like many e-commerce sites do. Don't want the offers? Write the company a letter or e-mail. Memo to Webvan: AOL buries its marketing preferences in hard-to-reach places, and users hate it. Don't be that guy.

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