Mark Lewis: Why Retailers Should Hand Consumers Their Data

The quantified self movement will likely extend to retail establishments as consumers expect more from analytics.

Big data, advanced analytics, and predictive marketing — all are huge opportunities for brands to more accurately analyze complex consumer behavior, and retailers stand to benefit more than most brands. Because they offer multiple products or SKUs under one brand, retailers can make consumers more personalized offers or recommendations, thereby (hopefully) increasing basket size and profitability.

But is that really the best way to use this data?

To paraphrase Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist at Amazon and Director of Stanford’s Social Data lab, “(consumers) are beginning to expect more in exchange for their data.” So, in a world where we are increasingly seeing that more messaging is not necessarily more effective, why use data to bombard people with offers or emails, however personalized they are?

What’s more, individual retailers are a silo of one. What they can give back to offer consumers in exchange for their data is restricted to their goods and their experience. Yet we know that people aren’t loyal and don’t want to be — they shop at a set of stores deemed ‘acceptable,’ with ones they choose more regularly being a function of popularity, not loyalty.

This last point can, perhaps, point us to a way in which retailers can use data to truly give back to consumers.

The ‘quantified self’ trend is likely moving from the early-adoption to the early-mass-adoption stage. People want to see what they are doing across activities — from food to exercise and even email — so they can reach whatever goals they need. And to help them do that, brands have given their data back to them. In fact, they have done more than that: they have openly shared this data with others through APIs so consumers can get a better picture of their lives.

For example:

  • Popular diet and exercise tracker app MyFitnessPal has now integrated with apps such as Runkeeper and wearables such as Jawbone’s UP to give you a complete picture of your fitness.
  • Tools such as TicTrac allow you to merge and visualize data sources by just clicking and dragging icons into place. So you can see (as I have) whether or not the number of emails I send has any bearing on my fitness.

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There is a similar opportunity for retailers. Rather than keep the data to themselves and offer consumers limited benefits, why not give consumers back their data and let them be in control of it?

Some brands already do this. Amazon, for example, let consumers view their own browsing history, download all of their purchases and even control advertising settings. But they are an exception rather than the rule.

So, if more consumers owned their purchase data, what services or applications might come about?

  • Retailers could offer consumers a much more accurate personalization service. By crunching an individual’s data, the company could offer a personalized catalogue, which means less ‘paradox of choice’ issues for consumers and potentially less inventory expense for retailers.
  • App developers would have an opportunity to develop new services that allow consumers to process this data themselves. Personal shopping bots, more accurate curation services, or custom products could all be areas of product development.

There is a downside to some of these ideas, of course, in addition to placing more work and burden on consumers. Because these services are based on things we have done in the past, we could get stuck in a ‘consumption bubble,’  in which we are only recommended goods similar to the ones we have bought in the past. Perhaps then someone will develop an app that only shows consumers items that they have not bought in the past.

Mark Lewis is the Director of Product Strategy at Slalom Digital.

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