You will see articles like the one I’ve attached, all the time. Claiming that you are being tracked and this is “creepy” that now retailers know what you bought! Well guess what? They’ve known for years because you did the buying and in their systems they had that information all along. For years! So lets be realistic about the data and what it can do. Often these articles are blowing things way out of proportion and totally misunderstanding the motives, intent and actual use of the systems in place.
First off, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Frankly, I don’t want my credit card company telling an insurance company what I’m buying or anyone else for that matter. That is crossing the line. The insurance company will claim that they will give you a better rate for eating organic foods and buying healthy stuff, of course they will raise your rates if you don’t. I also think this information shouldn’t be shared with the government. In countries in the US where we have a right to privacy, from the government, that should be respected. In general, sharing of truly personal data that identifies an individual, should not be shared beyond your organization. It’s good practice as a company to follow this basic rule.
Now, let’s talk about the issue of retailers using your data to help you. They have your information already. If you don’t want them to have it, don’t buy there or pay in cash and you will get your product and that’s it. But most people want a relationship with a retailer that allows them to get something out of it. Being able to get a good deal or a better offer on items we buy a lot of, are deals people are willing to share some information about. And what is that information? What you buy and an email address. Really, in 99% of the cases, that’s really it. They might need to know where you live if you want something shipped to your house, but really, they are not out to spy on your every move. In fact, most really don’t know how to gather and use the information they already have on you.
I work at a retailer and yes, we track what you buy and offer information to you. You buy a new product, and we can send you a video on how to use that new product or give you a deal on accessories for your new purchase. We are not tracking you around town waiting to share your secrets with the world. And where I work, we actually have a good program. I talk to a lot of other retailers and most can’t tie your purchase history to anything. They might get your email address and then send you an offer that is still pretty generic. So I really smile when I see these articles making it look like every retailer is out there tracking you because for the most part, that’s not the case. Few have anything in place that could do much of anything and even fewer have people on staff who know what to do with that information.
I think these fear articles are all drama. I’m a human being too, I don’t like people tracking me everywhere I go so I’m not going to do that to my customers. I think helping people and treating them with respect go a lot further than watching a person’s every move. If I know you bought an Xbox and are now in the store looking for a new tv, knowing you have an xbox and you buy a lot of games, can lead me to ask you if you are an avid gamer. If you say yes, then that helps me to talk about tv’s that other avid gamers like as well. There is nothing creepy or big brother like about that. It is about helping the customer. And the few retailers that have programs in place that can track you, that is their focus and the people who work on those teams that I have me, tend to be good people.
Don’t fear the tech and don’t give companies so much credit. I spend a lot of time learning what other companies are doing and believe me, I see all kinds of articles on big data and how companies are doing all kinds of things, but when you look under the hood, there often isn’t much there. I run big data at a large company and I know we have one of the best programs out there and it’s no where near my vision for it. And when I talk to other companies, they can only dream of being where I am today, so relax. Maybe in the future the systems will be there but for the near future, that cheeseburger you ate for lunch is still your little secret.