The economies in the USA and Canada are forcing consumers to watch their dollars closely, and national brands and stores are having to find ways to influence the way we spend. It may be naive to think that we are 100% in charge of making our decisions on how, what, when and why we buy - you can bet there are multiple retailers and major players figuring out how to catch and keep our attention (and hence our wallets).

I thought I'd share a few up and coming trends and behind the scenes that might be interesting to you as a consumer. First up, did you know that in the States, in some stores surveillance cameras aren't just there to watch for shoplifters? Now your actions and decision on what to buy will be captured on camera for analysis. Pepsico announced earlier this year they were partnering with Videomining to capture consumers "pathway to purchase" - basically following your feet across the store floor and capturing your shopping behaviour. Last month Videomining announced their C-Store Foodshopper Service study that will capture consumer behaviour on digital film at select Circle K, am/pm and other stores. If this seems a little "Big Brother is Watching," it's because they are - all in the interest of learning consumer behaviour and leveraging that information on how to design consumer programs, planograms, and displays - to earn your loyalty, and ultimately, your dollars.

Major brands are also diversifying their contact locations with their target market. Now not only will you find Dove products at your local grocery/pharmacy store, you can now have spa services using Dove products at Dove Spa. Similiar to that, Tide Dry Cleaners (with six locations in Canada) and Mr Clean Car Washes (only in the USA at the moment) also provide dry cleaning and oil services. (Source)

Instore experiences will also be enhanced, with instore coupons, instore new product tasting/testing, and instore reward programs seem to be on trend in regards to consumer marketing. Look for stores partnering up with programs like AirMiles to attract you to make purchases, and watch for different store brand marketing campaigns. For example, Loblaws will be distributing a new magazine called JUICE, six times a year, beginning in March 2012, to 400,00 of their loyal customers (source). Coupons, special promotions, bonus points and more will be part of the campaign to get you into Loblaw locations, purchasing Loblaw products.

Digital coupons are here to stay. Factor in the print prices, the fact that newspaper subscriptions are dropping, the increase in smartphone technology and ownership PLUS the ability to restrict mass redemption or coupon abuse, and you'll see more retailers partnering with online coupon suppliers in the future. Social media will increase even more in importance, and online sites like Facebook will become even more influential in offering coupon offers. Brands will still need to market for those who are not web-savvy or who do not want to provide their information in exchange for a coupon, or jump through the hoops to receive a coupon.

The discussion as to whether group buying sites such was Groupon and WagJag are sustainable as a means of offering deals to consumers will continue. Wagjag has now entered the grocery market, according to Techvibes. As a consumer, I enjoy getting the deals but am very aware that I am spending more as a result (buying deals that are just too good to resist). Having spoken to several vendors and finding out that they are required to provide substantial discounts as well as more than half of the purchase price to these group buy sites makes me feel a little guilty as well - and so I would prefer to buy a "groupon-esque" deal directly from the vendor versus group buy sites, but find the group buy sites to be invaluable in introducing new vendors to me in the first place.

Lower prices might mean no unions, as Target is challenging 15 Zellers' unionized locations, according to The Globe and Mail.