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GUEST COMMENT Customers are demanding transparency and trust, but is privacy a priority for retailers?

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For retailers, customer data is a way of personalising the shopping experience and ensuring a seamless path-to-purchase. For consumers, it’s a back-of-the-mind worry about how their details are being used, and the potential of being overwhelmed by third party marketing emails.

Today, customers are more concerned than ever about what retailers are doing with their personal information, and with everyone now having an opinion when it comes to the ‘big data debate’, retailers need to ensure they’re being both truthful and transparent.

A recent report from KPMG found that over half (55%) of respondents had at one point decided against making an online purchase due to privacy concerns, and fewer than 10% feel they have control over the way their personal data is handled. The top concerns, all of which were mentioned by over half of respondents, included lack of secure systems, unwanted marketing, and personally identifiable information. Add those up, and that’s a lot of missed sales opportunities!

Regardless of what has turned customers off in the past, retailers can always learn to move forward, striving for the ultimate end goal – customer trust.

Be transparent

Make sure you set the tone with customers early on in the relationship, and be clear not just about how your privacy policies and practices work, but how it will impact them. Explain how you plan to share any data they give, even if it’s as simple as something like their first and last names, and provide an easy way for customers to set and change their privacy preferences. When doing this, don’t waffle. Don’t use technical or legal language that the average customer wouldn’t understand, not only will this put them off their purchase, it might even put them off of your brand all together. Use plain, conversational language that helps to build on the relationship you’re making. Ensure all of this information is accessible and clear on the website and in any communication with customers.

Go above and beyond

Many retailers have privacy policies in place simply to adhere to industry regulations, but don’t have strict data policies that satisfy customer needs and expectations. While plenty of regulations continue to evolve and become the new ‘must-have’, this is room to define and implement policies that protect data across a wider range of potential threats and scenarios, rather than just the level that is required. Remember that collecting customers’ digital identities and data only works if the user can easily view and change the information they want to disclose, and equally what they want to keep private. Learn to empower users with opt in and out choices, giving them visibility into these and making sure they are being enforced. If they have asked to unsubscribe to your daily newsletter – let them, or lose them, as a customer.

Brush up on third party knowledge

Retailers gathering data are increasingly sharing it with third parties, including advertisers, service providers and partners – one of the biggest annoyances of online shoppers. To combat this, put data access policies in place that limit what can be shared according to criteria like job function, geography and demographics, as well as customer choices. For example, if you’re sharing your customer database with a marketing firm that’s doing an email campaign, make sure they can’t access the email addresses of those who have opted out of emails. Some of the largest data breaches that have occurred over the last few years have been due to vulnerabilities in partner systems.

Always opt for best practice

Privacy and security go hand-in-hand, so employing the strongest possible security methods is absolutely crucial. Don’t just encrypt at the endpoints, encrypt data throughout the whole customer journey, thinking about when it’s in transit, when it is stored, and when it reaches its end-point. Apply security controls directly to the data so they’re enforced when data travels beyond your firewall, regardless of channel or device.

When retailers fail consumers by mishandling their data, everyone suffers. Trust is difficult to gain but easy to lose and for retailers not making customer privacy a priority, trust isn’t the only thing at risk of being lost. Customers that feel retailers are not being honest and open about how they are using the information they are handing over will turn to competitors that explain how they plan to share the data, putting the customer in control.

Privacy and trust go hand-in-hand and without it retailers will find not only a lack of interaction and engagement, but little loyalty to become a life-long customer, something that in today’s competitive retail landscape is essential to achieving success.

Steve Shoaff is chief product officer at Ping Identity

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