Where is the line between cool and creepy? It's not an easy question to answer, at least when it comes to retail analytics.
Why do consumers like getting personalized discounts at the grocery store but find it invasive for another retailer to tell them that an item they browsed online is in stock -- in their size?
Why do consumers feel special when they get relevant solicitations from one company and upset when another suggests possible purchases based on their buying patterns?
As David Mattin, lead strategist at the independent agency Trendwatching, told me for a post this week, sophisticated customer intelligence poses opportunities and challenges. "Privacy is a key question here," he said. "Consumers are willing to share their data, with two provisos: They will not accept flagrant abuses of trust, and, increasingly, that they expect to benefit."
When IBM surveyed more than 28,000 consumers early this year, it found them willing to tell retailers about their media use (75 percent); demographics (73 percent); identification, such as name and address (61 percent); lifestyle (59 percent); and location (56 percent) in exchange for more targeted and smarter shopping experiences.
No one disputes the fact that data is a huge issue right now, or, as Mattin put it, "consumer expectation around data -- and the innovations that brands and businesses are launching around data -- are key forces helping to shape the consumer arena."
For several years, retailers have been expanding their use of customer data. Using data amassed from loyalty card use, Kroger is just one of numerous grocery store chains offering personalized in-store discounts to give shoppers money off their favorite brands.
Now companies are going even further -- using consumer data to shape products and services before consumers even use them. Mattin cited the Know Me program British Airways launched in July. It uses Google Images to source pictures of VIP passengers before their arrival at the plane or terminal, enabling staff to greet customers personally. "Staff can also use iPads to access information on passengers' previous experiences with BA, meal preferences, and onward travel plans, all to help tailor the passenger experience."
Is that cool -- or creepy? Where do you draw the line?