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This is getting personal

Retailers have to navigate the fine line between collecting vital customer data and scaring people off.

At a recent Drapers etail roundtable, one topic that kept coming up was how retailers should be collecting and managing data. While customers are becoming used to parting with data when making purchases online, too much personalisation can scare them off.

Melissa Littler, marketing and PR director at etailer BrandAlley, believes retailers need to think carefully about the data they are asking their customers to give. “There is a general propensity for retailers to ask customers for a lot of data that they never actually use - this is a surefire way to frustrate the customer. If you’re not going to use it, don’t ask for it,” she says.

Iain MacDonald, multichannel marketing director at Crew Clothing thinks the basics (name and address) should be collected but marketers also need to see the transaction history and to be able to log customers’ contact permissions and preferences. For example, does the customer allow marketing emails or for their data to be given to third parties, and do they want catalogues sent to them - these would be customers’ expressed preferences.

A point that’s become a recurring theme when talking about data is that once an email address is collected, how many emails should the retailer then send out to the customer? Alixandra Burn, web analytics manager at Topshop, says: “The customer should decide, based on [indicated] personal preference. One email a week might be too many for some customers but nowhere near enough for others.”

MacDonald agrees but points out that it depends on the business, and if retailers continually look at the statistics from their emailing (open rate, opt outs) they can easily see what is working and what isn’t. “Monitoring customer feedback is vital, as is giving customers explanations of what you are doing and why, and giving them choices about opting out for the future,” he says. “If you look at email opt-out rates you can see when you are emailing too much as they go up or open rates decline.”

As well as online, Littler believes retailers should also be thinking about how they can collect data from customers in store. “It’s a natural course of events for retailers to ask for data online but in store they don’t do it enough.

There has been a lot of talk about the death of the high street - retailers need to know their customer in order for it to be invigorated. The smaller boutiques are actually much better at collecting data in store.”

Retailers also need to consider how open they should be about the amount of data they have on the customer and how they can use it to improve customer experience without invading privacy.

Littler says it is all about timeliness and relevance: “Don’t communicate with me through channels that I haven’t asked you to. Only communicate to me the things I’ve signed up for and when I’ve asked to receive them. And don’t share my data with others.”

MacDonald says retailers should be as open as required publicly with a policy statement on websites emphasising how the customer benefits because of the data you hold. He says: “Amazon is able to give everyone who agrees to their cookies a very personalised and usually highly relevant content presentation when you log in, payment is easy, recommendations are tailored and emails contain relevant content. If a company provides the right data security and says so, customers should feel helped not threatened.”

How do you collect customer data?

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