Jeremy Whitaker is chairman of consumer data provider and compliance specialist Verso Group
The EU will shortly impose a new law that will have a major impact on any clothing brand or retailer that runs a consumer contact database, but the challenge it presents can be turned into a profitable opportunity. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or new European data law, will be introduced before the end of 2017, and will be far more stringent than the present rules on how you communicate with consumers.
Currently you need consumers’ permission to send marketing information, but the terms are broad. In future it will have to be more clearly defined in both the content and the communications channel used. The fines for non-compliance will be up to seven figures and the public may be given the right to claim damages.
Perhaps the best way to describe how opt-in permission will work in future is that it will be like a traffic light system. Consent will have to be sought and provided if you want to convey information on a declared subject to a customer or prospect in a specified way, such as email. If at a later stage there is a desire to communicate about another subject, or in another way, it is like stopping at another set of traffic lights at which new permission must be asked in order to move forward once more.
The new ‘unambiguous’ criteria will apply to existing data as well as future collection, which means auditing all existing consumer files to establish whether current consent meets the new standard. The outcome is likely to mean every consumer will have to be contacted to upgrade opt-in permission.
Additionally, the new law will require every individual consent form completed by a member of the public, whether electronic, paper or verbal, to be stored and ready for inspection by the Information Commissioners Office upon request. Finally, every company will have to introduce a readily identifiable data removal system for members of the public to apply their right ‘to be forgotten’.
GDPR presents a serious challenge, but it can be turned into a positive. For example, when contacting consumers to refresh consent, companies could also find out more about their true buying potential and buying triggers, as well as making sales offers.