Keeping Online Retail Legal


ďLife is messy, so is dataĒ -- Aurelie Pols, data governance and privacy advocate. Probably the best example of messy data and life is happening among retailers who are combining offline and online customer experiences. And, that gumbo of confusion includes some legal mess as well.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

There was a day when retailers considered online and offline as separate channels. Brands introduced over the past 15 years, such as cosmetics brand Carolís Daughter, developed an online presence with the experience considered as a distinct strategy from the physical store. Today the desire to view a customerís interest from mobile website to cash register has driven the latest digital brands like Warby Parker and Rent the Runway to augment their digital properties with a few physical stores.

If you doubt the marketplace value of a blended online/physical space, consider Walmartís recent purchase of Jet.com, not just as a strategic play against Amazon but as a strategic play to keep Jet from building a physical presence of its own.

Yet this blend, an intriguing twist on the e-commerce/physical store lore, is not without peril. Combining experiences now means a greater number of ways to increase legal risks with the support technology. The risks are ones that can cripple a businessís image with its customers or even put it out of business.

Customers who have been accustomed to e-commerce practices for the past 10 years have a different expectation of privacy than people who shop in brick-and-mortar stores. They are used to reminders and being tracked for the convenience of being alerted to an upcoming sale.

But there are shoppers who are more introverted in manner, accustomed to browsing products with salesperson intervention only for brief product or service questions. These customers prefer to go into a store, armed with their own product research and the desire to shop quickly and relatively undisturbed.

As the analytics trend to combine online and offline experiences into a cohesive view of a customer continues to grow, retailers must apply different strategies for providing privacy protection where analytic strategies are involved.

At the heart of applying those strategies is establishing how privacy clauses assign responsibility for liability concerns. Daliah Saper, founder of Saper Law in Chicago, noted a good example. In an Internet of Things conference, WindyCityThings -- I covered it in the All Analytics post When A City Gets Behind IoT Development -- she explained why firms that do not select an enforceable privacy policy sees class-action lawsuits.

"For privacy policies, it is not the breach thatís the source of the complaint,Ē Saper explained. ďItís the idea that you did not do enough to protect the consumerís information. You need to disclose what you plan to do with that information. If that changes you need to notify your customers of that change.Ē You can view the video of Saperís WindyCityThings presentation to learn of other legal concerns that can impact app and IoT device development. Overall, retailers must be vigilant in choosing customer protections that match up to internal capability.

Analytics can lead the way in management of some of these liabilities. One way analytics can influence is to encourage data mining and cleaning techniques such as tidy data. A framework first coined by programmer Hadley Wickham in his whitepaper, tidy data is meant to map a dataset's meaning to its structure. This technique reveals missing data and eliminates potential data errors that can influence advanced analytics or other data-driven projects.

Another analytic influence is use of reporting solutions that make data sources more easily identifiable from real-world experiences. Take geofencing, the filtering of traffic under known IP addresses. Geofencing is useful for web-rooming and showrooming, but it is permits better analysis of customer activity in a retail space and link customer preferences in-store to data collected in-store.

If you are planning website and app development, you should also vet how your apps and website elements support your privacy collection. That means having privacy policies easy to view on a page or within an app -- a benefit analytic solutions provide, since they have already been used for improving site elements in general.

One critical aside in analytic vetting is that you must be aware that third partiesí can thwart planned privacy protection by how they introduce changes to site or app functionality. Take an example from Fred Benenson, former vice president of data at Kickstarter and author of Emoji Dick & How to Speak Emoji. In his post Benenson questions a recent experience in which website visitors were automatically signed up for email through browsing rather than receiving a signup request that would allow an opt out for the user.

Over the years analytics has become less renown as a tool for auditing online traffic, and more of a tool for auditing behavioral outcomes associated with the technology. The volume of technological innovations has outpaced the number of laws that govern those behavioral outcomes. This means retailers must maintain as strong a vigil of how customer protections are applied as they do for ROIs from a marketing campaign.

Pierre DeBois, Founder, Zimana

Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business analytics consultancy that reviews data from Web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides recommendations and Web development action that improves marketing strategy and business profitability. He has conducted analysis for various small businesses and has also provided his business and engineering acumen at various corporations such as Ford Motor Co. He writes analytics articles for AllBusiness.com and Pitney Bowes Smart Essentials and contributes business book reviews for Small Business Trends. Pierre looks forward to providing All Analytics readers tips and insights tailored to small businesses as well as new insights from Web analytics practitioners around the world.

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Re: shopping
  • 10/28/2016 3:17:24 PM
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Very true on the longevity factor - and there are products that are lasting longer because of better materials and manufacturing techniques.  It means downstream services for a product must change as well to keep up.

Re: shopping
  • 10/28/2016 3:15:39 PM
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That should change as autonomous vehicles take shape.  There's already discussion about ownership, but that should not be an overnight turn in sentiment.  Government policy and investment in autonomous vehicles will intorduce new rules about manufacture responsibility that will trickle down to the retail end of a vehicle purchase, rental, or lease.  That suggests that as we adopt self-driving vehicles, government intervention on behalf of the consumer will have to step up to prevent dealers from taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers.

Re: shopping
  • 10/6/2016 7:58:12 AM
NO RATINGS

I have nothing against that at all and in some areas admire that spirit.  I don't know if I'll call it a lack of materialism or a shift in the dream.  I've seen quite a few DIY campers which require at least a basic set of hand tools, otherwise that cheap living will nickel and dime you to death.  Maybe we'll have a new generation of tinkerers and we'll see a resurgence of mechanical and engineering hobbies because they have to figure out how to keep their 1970s bus on the road.

Re: shopping
  • 10/6/2016 12:58:22 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT My fellow Millenials dream of working while traveling. I guess that really changes the game. A house and mortgage are being traded for campervans or hostels in Chiang Mai, so while there's some DIYing there, it ain't much.

Re: shopping
  • 10/3/2016 8:38:06 AM
NO RATINGS

That could be part of it but the DIY now tends to be smaller beautification projects based on the questions people around me tend to ask.  I do have a couple friends essentially rebuilding houses but they are boomers or Gen X, I don't think the millennials have started buying houses the way that previous generations did.

 

Re: shopping
  • 9/30/2016 11:45:19 PM
NO RATINGS

Interesting. Where I am, the young are moving into condominiums more than houses with their own garages, so DIY suffers to an extent.

Re: shopping
  • 9/28/2016 9:47:53 AM
NO RATINGS

@magneticnorth, yes brining in new customers is a big part of that equation and for decades they used tradition and reputation to reach new customers.  I have toolboxes that were bought before I was born and as mentioned in another post there are people who scour garage sales and flea markets for old Craftsman tools.  The shift seems to be with the current generation, either they aren't working with their hands the same way or the sprawl of big box hardware stores has shifted the market that far.  

 

Re: shopping
  • 9/28/2016 8:12:16 AM
NO RATINGS

Maryam, I think that you are correct in that Sears missed the boat on the trend. Had they gotten out in front of it with a savvy marketing campaign, there might have been hope.

Re: shopping
  • 9/28/2016 5:31:40 AM
NO RATINGS

I think this is one reason Sears suffers a little bit right now, fewer people are buying the products that they build their name on.

@SaneIT, that's the sad truth about any brand that promises longevity. They don't benefit from repeat purchase. But one way around that is to cross-sell other products under the same brand to the same market; I'm not in the US so I don't know how far the Craftsman brand has done that. But as Maryam hints to in her comment, it's also important to acquire new customers, especially when your products last for a lifetime.

Re: shopping
  • 9/28/2016 5:24:28 AM
NO RATINGS

@Pierre, apart from appeasing a customer's worries from the lack of test driving, a return period seems to be a sign of the company's confidence in their products. That's common in the FMCG industry but with cars? Definitely a powerful differentiation, though it looks so simple.

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