The Irony of Customer Privacy in Retail

Privacy is a bitch. There. I said it.
Really. It is a topic that many people are struggling with.
On each side. On the Business side. On the Client side.

And yet.
It’s very ironic but very solvable.
If we’re all willing to think about it, in a common sense of way.
Sort of.

What is privacy actually

Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share common themes. When something is private to a person, it usually means there is something to them inherently special or sensitive. The domain of privacy partially overlaps security, including for instance the concepts of appropriate use, as well as protection of information. Privacy may also take the form of bodily integrity.

So, privacy is, in short, about personal information (data), security (safeness) and even bodily integrity (intimacy).
Privacy is very delicate topic. We tend to think of privacy as intimacy. The intimacy of my body, my sensitive information, the things i want to keep to myself, friends or family and no one else.

Privacy has it’s boundaries. For anyone of us.
Depending on the person and his current experience in life, we tend to push that boundary for ourselves.
With a little help: from friends, family, acquaintances and even services, products or businesses.

Why has privacy still a price? Why is it still an issue for many people?
A fluffy wall where some of them are still hiding after to feel safe and warm.
Is it a part of our human nature, or are we made this way by society?

Why? Because most of the time, we screw things up.

Where is this ‘privacy issue’ coming from

Not sure what’s the source of this ‘privacy issue’ is but mister Snowden is probably a part of the accelerated focus on privacy in the States. Although correlations don’t show (if you can find better data – pls do e-mail me), this privacy thing is far bigger in the US than it is here in Europe. The Big Brother attitude we have is due to other origins. It starts with trust being violated and the logical next step is call out the Big Brother conspiracies and privacy issues that come with it.

It’s normal. People feel betrayed. Trust is going down and the interest at the bank is at its lowest point ever!
The melt up of the US dollar, the impact of Detroit on a big Belgian bank and even countries falling apart in Europe.

Privacy has become an issue due to bad decision making that confirm all of this.
At a big scale, privacy will turn into a Big brother conspiracy. Customer privacy on a mediocre level, never will be that big, if handled with a customer centric approach.

Some things are raising concerns for customers. Facial recognition for example.
If communication is lacking, that’s normal. And yet.. their are camera’s everywhere in our country.


From an SEO & online marketing background, one of the things that is known in the sector, is that the US leaps forward to the UK and they again leap forward to Belgium. So… let’s use that to look at some correlations that might be interesting.

Correlations – United States

Seems like implementation and implementing are correlating the highest with privacy.
Notice the words “a database” and “relations”.



Not sure why 2012 is a peak.

Correlations – United Kingdom

Totally different. Not yet an issue for digital, for now? Not sure.


Correlations – Belgium

Ok. Belgium. Hmmm. Policies as in document?



None of these mention security.
So i did a few more searches for Belgium, UK & US.
In Belgium & US, there is a link with programming, databases and information management in the list.

How is privacy evolving worldwide?

It’s interesting to see what’s the trend like.
Google Trends gives an overview by search term.
There are three main terms if it comes to privacy & retail: privacy itself, security (what’s needed & how ordinary people see privacy as an security challenge/issue) and personalization (where we’re heading – towards contextual design) and maybe will evolve to behavioral & neural design/sketching.


Security is still the biggest of the three. Lots of noise there too!
So take the graph with a grain of salt but you get a good idea how big the security & privacy topic actually is.

How is personalization evolving worldwide?

If you zoom in on personalization, with is going to be a very essential part of contextual design,
you can see the graph is slowly rising. We’re on the beginning of something here. Why the beginning? Because many of us are still figuring out how to do this & not upset customers.

Not sure why it peaks in december though.


How is customer privacy evolving worldwide?

Interesting to see that customer privacy, as a trend is slowly diminishing, but the top keywords are very straight forward.
All about data & policies and law.

You could say we’re preparing ourselves to the next step in retail.
We are preparing ourselves! We have to!



Security is just an excuse

Security is definitely a problem. Not on the business side but on the client side. People are still thinking security has to do a lot with privacy. Actually, it isn’t. Security is a mainly, might by even a purely, technical challenge. You either make something secure or not.

Security is vital to any database, any service, any business. Even the smallest website.
A bank for instance. People expect that the website is secure. No hacking possible. No bugs. No issues.
It’s about money. Their money & savings. So they care, _a lot_.

The downside of this all is that, sometimes, if things do go wrong, media is lurking to strike (again).
It’s normal. It’s a psychological thing, when bad news outweighs good news by 17/1.

When media puts things out to the world about security gone wrong, people are all panicking. Because, when something isn’t as secure as we think it was, it sets of an alarm in our head. We feel somewhat violated. You just lost a part of our trust. Actually, you just lost their trust. See it as a treshold of trust. Once you get below the 70% treshold, they outweigh the options to change to another retailer.

Secure is taking for granted.

People don’t care about security, they take it for granted.
They expect businesses to act & to incorporate security onto their agendas, but customers need to think about theirs too and think about it in a common sense of way.

Good security is essential. It helps you building trust and minimizing bad news being spread by the media.

Why retailers are having a hard time

As written here before. The media is blowing things up and we should take that in account.
As a business, but also as a consumer.

Retailers have two problems.
One on theirs side, one on the side of the customer.

Not being familiar with the strategy & tactics to do progressive profiling

Retailers have, sorry for the expression, a shit load of data that they can use to help their customers.
And that’s where it goes wrong. A lot of this strategy and tactics are set up by the marketing team. So marketeers want to market the data. That’s ok, but you need to focus on the customer first!

If you’re telling customers you’re helping them, and please _show them with an example_, they won’t allow you to help them. Helping them equals getting more data to run a better and more focussed business. No doubt about that. You just need the right team at the right time (call me). If you’re not helping them, they will feel violated again and all of a sudden, they noticed that competitor they even not think about.

The other side is the customer side. Retailers need to show customer they _do_ care about their customers!

The information retailers get from customers will help them to shape a customer centric future, but customer needs to acknowledge that.

Pure hard selling marketing (what most of you guys do) is killing privacy and thus personalization.

Data should be supporting client & business decisions, not for purely marketing campaigns or beat the crap out of people with advertising products they don’t want.

Another challenge is the Digital transformation. On the client side, everything is going blistering fast. We all got an smartphone by now. We all got a tablet by now. And yet… on the business side, retailers can’t keep up with the pace of service they want to deliver cross channel. I’m talking multi-channel here. Not omni-channel. That’s a step further.

The Irony of a Customer Centric Approach: Customer privacy vs Convenience

If you’re putting your customer in the center of your business model _and_ you have the right team, you’ll nail it! For sure!

The funny thing is that customers are very sceptic towards giving data online, yet very eager to get a reduction card in the store itself. Strange, don’t you think?

Another funny fact. If we call with a problem to our favorite retailer, we expect them to know what we bought, what we bought even before that and help us to fix the problem. For instance, my diesel lawnmower isn’t working anymore and my previous model was an electric one I really loved. But, if we’re filling in a profile on the website, we ask ourselves over and over again “why do they need to know where I live and why do they want my telephone number”.

So we need to help our customers to show them why this will help them!
You only need two keys.

The keys are transparency & trust.
And there glued together with data.

Privacy is like getting in a girls’ pants. Truly like her, show her how much, and maybe you’ll get lucky if she trusts you.

Bit bold, but hey… it is!

If she’s in a good mood, just feeling needy or a tramp, you’ll get lucky on the first or second date.
If it’s love at first sight, you might get lucky too, but actually, you’ll have to skip the ladder of friendship, earn her trust, show her you really care about her, and, of course, get approval of the vicious daddy-“she’s my pumpkin, little princess, honeybun”-person. Sounds familiar?


Transparency correlates strongly with vision. If you don’t have a vision with your business, you’ll never be able to fall back onto that big hairy audacious goal. You’ll get stuck in your business, you’ll need to explain everything over and over again to customers to get away with things. That? You don’t want!

I truly believe that a vision is key to everything and has an upper hand in your transparency towards your customers.
You’ll be able to fall back on your vision for many things: communication, marketing, selling products and services, _not_ selling certain products and services, serving the types of customers you want and _don’t_ want… even HR and hiring people.

Let customers know you want to save their data & show them how you will use it to help them. Don’t be creepy. Store data that you will use to enhance their experience first!

For instance. In-store tracking. A hot item for retailers & startups. They love it. Customers hate it.
Innovation needs to think about privacy as well. Don’t forget opt-out, in Europe you need to opt-in.

Below you can find some interesting research. In-store tracking is something very intimate so it seems.
Also calling someone on its mobile phone is a big no. That’s a challenge. Technology is the easy part. The challenge is transparency and communication. Convincing people that you will give them something valuable and not that same transactional or promotional content over and over again.




You could also quit tracking data from customers, in order to accomplish something else.
Check out Steven his blogpost too on customers & data usage. LOVE Stevens insights!


I really believe, deep deep inside, that retailers do get it!
Really! They’re in this economy for already a very long time, so they know how essential clients are to their business.
Especially SMCG’s and FMCG’s.

Why them?
They have small margins on products, so they need a lot of customers!
They know, better than other retailers, that they need to act fast on the business side, as fast as they can, but slow & supported by a thoughtful communication strategy on the client side. The faster you’ll get the data, how better your business can be fine-tuned. Too slow? You’ll probably end up losing those customers to other retailers. Too fast? You could burn a lot of money on infrastructure, for instance.

Maybe an official membership & privacy badge could help earn trust as well. It could help.
Although good honest service and advising the right product tops everything else.

Retailers should

  • Embrace privacy and show customers how they will get more value
  • Respect the intimacy of the customer and let him opt-in only if he wants
  • Educate your marketing team to use data for more purposes than hard selling marketing advertising
  • Be transparent as you can be towards customers and try to talk to them what they really want & mention the ironic twitch to their data and the use of it online and offline.
  • Take your time to come up with a plan for transparent progressive profiling and implement it step by step

If you have any questions,
pls contact me and ask me anything.

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