A recent case in the US highlights why we should all be making sure that “Minority Report” style highly-targeted marketing activity offers something to both sides - consumer and retailer. Nordstrom, a 114-year old Seattle-based fashion retailer, thought that it had found the perfect big data solution through the use of a system called Euclid. What this system actually did was monitor every smartphone that entered the store through a series of wi-fi antennas. It knew when you came in and when you left. It knew what aisles you walked up and down. Basically, it followed you.
In fairness, Nordstrom did position signs at the entrances to its shops that told you Euclid was in operation. But when you’re out shopping, you’re looking for bargains and price tags, not disclaimers that you are entering a data-sniffing zone, so they were largely ignored. Nordstrom thought that it was perfectly acceptable to sniff on smartphone wi-fi pings and gather information in a highly-secretive way which - in light of the recent NSA and GCHQ revelations about data privacy - didn’t go down well at all.
Nordstrom has since stopped this practice after an outcry from its customers, but as an exercise in PR it has been very negative. Being deeply involved in both the fields of data capture and customer personalisation, I found myself shaking my head and wondering why some retailers seem to have learnt so little.
One of the key pillars upon which customers and business interact is trust. As a consumer, you have to trust the retail partner, yet many marketers start from a position of conflict. A conflict over ownership of the data they collect and over what they can get away with. The first response of government faced with protecting citizens has been to legislate that permission must be sought before consumer data is collected. That has to be right. But it leaves the consumer with the sense of, “what am I letting them get away with?”.
But does this have to be a cat-and-mouse game or is there a better way? nFluence conducted research last year that showed conclusively that marketers being transparent so that consumers understand why messages are targeted the way they are leads to higher trust. As a result, consumers respond much better than the data alone would suggest. Indeed, many ask to provide even more data to help the marketer even more.
We’ve recently worked with Westfield, the giant shopping centre operator, and helped it realise that understanding its consumers is going to mean asking the right questions - and then listening to what’s said. The MyWestfield app at their two sites in London and Stratford directly engages consumers in an up-front and totally transparent way and then services their needs intelligently. Ask them what they like. Ask them what they don’t like. And then use very clever technology to infer a customer profile that is 90 per cent accurate.
The app is proving to be a big hit with consumers. They like the fact that, perhaps for the first time in a long while, a big company seems to be working with them rather than against them when it comes to data capture. They don’t feel like they’re merely a bottomless well into which a multitude of marketing messages is tossed.
So the next time you’re watching a film set in the future on the connected TV in your living room, remember to keep in mind that, although the technology will change, the underlying fundamentals of trust and honesty will always prove more beneficial to companies and their customers than a retina scan and a chip in the back of the hand!