Using Electronic Demographics Responsibly

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Modern technology has added a dimension to the Know Thy Customer mantra that was almost inconceivable less than a generation in the past.

Retailers now have so much information that provides such levels of detail on customers that they must find a balance betwixt using this information effectively and appearing to the customer as some sort of digital voyeur.

Many of the targets of this elaborate data mining typically react with utter astonishment to the fact that their shopping profiles contain the depth of information available and it is not uncommon at all to hear reactions along the lines of, “I didn’t even know that about myself!”

There was one somewhat notorious instance of a brick-and-mortar/e-commerce retailer sending targeted emails pertaining to diapers and other baby items to a woman who had recently learned she was pregnant, but had yet to tell anyone else. Apparently, the merchant had made the decision to send the targeted email based on the fact that the customer’s habitual purchases of feminine hygiene products had been interrupted.

Such revelations are certain to attract the notice of privacy advocates who object to the intrusiveness of such practices and even consumers who have benefited from offers based on targeted data collection have been less than enthusiastic about the concept of all this personal information being collected without their permission.

For merchants, another issue is that the sheer amount of data available for profiling customers, even when it is used in a respectful and benign fashion, can be more of a distraction than a benefit. The process of sifting the information for what matters and what is superfluous requires a skill set that was not necessary before the digital age arrived to collect details about customers and shopping habits that are far more detailed than anything that had ever existed previously, even when that information was voluntarily supplied by customers.

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