Color Me Stupid About Customer Loyalty


Coupon in hand, one night last week, I headed out to a beauty retailer to buy a certain brand of shampoo that isn't available at the big-box store I generally frequent.

While checking out, the cashier asked if I belonged to the retailer's customer loyalty card program. I didn't, and she had caught me in just the right mood. I figured I'd be back soon enough to replenish my shampoo, so I said, "Sure, I'll sign up." She'd promised me it'd take but a few seconds, and she was right. She asked just a couple of questions, including "What's your birth date?"

That last one gave me pause, less because I'm self-conscious about my age but more because it seemed she thought I might be. "Don't worry," she was quick to add, with a bit of an apologetic look on her face, "I don't need the year, just the month and day."

Hmm. Granted, within the span of the last 15 hours I had worked a full day, cheered my son on at his soccer game, pulled together a quick dinner, did the dishes, and was now out shopping. But did I really look so haggard as to make the clerk concerned how I'd react to being asked my age? OK, maybe. But still, I wasn't so tired as not to be somewhat amused… and altogether intrigued.

Was the clerk as sensitive when asking the age question of any patron signing up for the loyalty program -- or just those who appeared to be over a certain age? Did she only ask the question so sensitively for female customers or did guys, as rare as they might be shopping in this particular type of store, get the same reaction? Was the clerk acting so sensitively on her own, or was she instructed on how to be apologetic when asking for age?

But the big question that popped into mind was about the loyalty-card program itself and not the clerk's intent. Why did the retailer only ask for birth month and day? Certainly the real marketing bonus comes in knowing a customer's age, and for that the company would need the year. Many beauty products and services are ageless, but many aren't. Certainly age would be a critical component of understanding who I am and what I might be enticed to buy. Would a coupon for Glop & Glam Blueberry Blast shampoo be more likely to get me in the store, or one for L'Oreal Youth Code Dark Spot Correcting and Illuminating Serum Corrector?

The age question was still on my mind the next day when, coincidentally, I'd been scheduled to talk with Wilson Raj, global marketing director of customer intelligence, at SAS (this site's sponsor), about customer-loyalty-program research the company had collaborated on in the UK (more on that in another post). So I asked him what he made of the beauty retailer coming up short on age.

Essentially, what he told me was that I shouldn't be duped. The beauty retailer surely would want to know my age, and it'll use other resources to find it out. The clerk, perhaps, might even have filled in an age range she selected based on my appearance. Maybe knowing that I'm somewhere in the range of, say, 40 to 55 and not 20 to 35 would be accurate enough for the company's marketing purposes.

Also plausible is that because the retailer gathered my name, my address, and the month and day of my birth, it can now mine publicly available resources like social sites to learn the year of my birth and other information about me. It'll then be able to append what it's collected to the data it's asked for upfront. "It'll mine and aggregate and surmise," Raj said.

Well, color me stupid -- or at least more tired than I'd thought.

So this beauty retailer may very well have made a tactical gambit that I'd be more willing to join its loyalty program and share personal data if it avoided explicitly asking me how old I was. Interesting, as chances are I'd have signed up for the program anyway, especially if it meant discounts on the special pricey shampoo I've started to buy. As Raj pointed out, life is a journey. Research shows that customers are more likely to share information or give permission if they know the relationship will be relevant and flow into that journey.

So now I'll be watching this beauty retailer's reaching-out to me like a hawk, aging eyes and all. Is it sending me personalized incentives, clearly based on knowledge of my age? Was it, in other words, less than transparent and truthful about the demographics it was after? If so, what will I do in response? Will I shrug my shoulders, grab the latest offer, and head to the store? Or will I cancel my membership and find somewhere else to buy what I need?

What would you do?

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Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Re: Birthday
  • 11/11/2013 2:53:14 PM
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In my last two engagements, we discovered that customer age quickly became less relevant as the relationship matured. Purchase history and online behavior trump age-based treatment, at least in my limited experience. Some personas, for instance the "benevolent grandparent" as we came to call it, aren't treated well using customer age. Valuable personas have behavioral signatures that often defy age. After two or three shopping or purchasing experiences, digging up a birth year just wasn't helpful. Sure, we could correlate with this or that additional database, but the juice wasn't worth the squeeze, as they say. We did try to collect the birth day to send out a personalized coupon, and we told the customer up front that was the reason we didn't want the birth year.

Is anyone getting much use from the birth year?

Re: Birthday
  • 10/2/2013 10:53:02 AM
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@SaneIT Perhaps once they inform you that your kid has signed up and get a genral permission for particular types of email, they don't have to send a copy each time. My youngest actually doesn't have her own email, so she puts down my gmail account for herself and my verizon one as the parent one. So I do end up seeing all her emails anyway.

Re: Birthday
  • 10/2/2013 7:22:18 AM
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I get emails from sites that my kids have accounts on to play games, like Lego and Webkinz for the initial setup of their account to be sure they are allowed to do so but I've never seen a follow up or an email saying that they are sending my kids in game messages which they do on birthdays for example. Would this be outside the rules of COPPA?

Re: Birthday
  • 10/1/2013 9:33:08 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT Once they ask for an email for the child, they already seem to be crossing over in the online guidelines. I receive emails from K'nex and other companies every time they send something or receive something from my kid online, including signing up for emails. They specify that they do this to comply with COPPA regulations. 

Re: Birthday
  • 10/1/2013 7:32:59 AM
NO RATINGS

That covers information collected online but what about face to face collection of data?  Is consent by the parent implied if I'm standing there next to my child letting them blurt out every piece or information they are asked for?

 

Re: Loyalty and the perks
  • 9/30/2013 1:15:37 PM
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@Maryam -- you definitely know how to pick a good loyalty program! I'm surprised Chico's doesn't offer a discount for your b-day. I wonder if it doesn't for any customer or whether you don't make the cut in terms of dollars spent there? I'm not a frequent Chico's shoppe; in fact, I've only been to the store once. But while there, I was absolutely flabberghasted by a woman next to me at the register. She was definitely a frequent shopper, but used one of the sales clerks there to do the shopping for her. She was returning some items and exchanging a few others for different sizes. Her receipt was probably two feet long. I kid you not. And I definitely got the impression that this was a regular occurence. I can't imagine Chico's not giving her a nice birthday discount!

 

Re: Loyalty and the perks
  • 9/30/2013 10:47:26 AM
NO RATINGS

Yes Beth actual free stuff. A local restaurant gave me a glass of champagne and dessert. I received $15 no strings attached from a vendor. Another gave me $10 no strings attached.

Granted I did get some emails with a birthday wish and nothing else--if you are listening Chicos don't bother next year! :) I would call that birthday spam!

 

Re: Birthday
  • 9/30/2013 8:54:01 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT yes, and she could also offer this URL http://www.coppa.org/comply.htm

Re: Birthday
  • 9/30/2013 7:17:29 AM
NO RATINGS

I'm not sure what the legality is but I assumed they could just claim ignorance and skate by if someone confronted them.  My girls love the store so it's hard to tell them we're never going back.  We actually talked about going back to they can spend some allowance money and the first thing from the younger one was "if they ask me for my email address I'm going to give them a fake one".  I had to laugh then let her know that she can just tell them she doesn't have an email address.

Re: Birthday
  • 9/28/2013 8:11:15 PM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT that store is just looking for a lawsuit if that's they way they go about things. Really, while you can probably get away with nagging your adult customers for information like that, I'm absolutely certain it is illegal to try to draw such information out of children under 13 without parental consent.

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