Just as today’s shoppers are using an ever wider variety of channels to buy through, so retailers are also using an ever wider variety of channels to get in touch and engage with shoppers. The technology is there to allow them to send messages via email and text, as well as getting in touch by post. They’re able to send notifications direct to those that have downloaded their app.
But today they are operating in an environment that’s been radically changed by GDPR regulations. That’s changed the way that retailers may now engage with shoppers. In the light of that change, some businesses are now going further to ask shoppers not only whether they’d like them to be in touch, but how they’d like that contact to be framed.
What is GDPR?
When General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in the UK and across the European Union in May 2018, the broad aim was to put power over consumers’ data back into the hands of the individual.
The new law says that data held on recognisable individuals must now be “processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner,” that it must be only used for the purposes that it was collected for before being safely disposed of, and that it must be kept accurate. Consumers have a right to see what data a company holds on them – and to have it corrected if it is inaccurate.
It’s about, says the Information Commissioner’s Office guide to the subject “offering real choice and control.” It adds: “Genuine consent should put individuals in charge, build trust and engagement and enhance your reputation.” Failing to get clear consent could have harmful effects, it warned: “Relying on inappropriate or invalid consent could destroy trust and harm your reputation – and may leave you open to large fines.”
At a practical level this meant that retailers should make sure their consent processes met the standard, were specific enough for the use that they intended to make of the data, and required a positive opt-in. They also had to make it easy for consumers to change their mind and withdraw their consent.
The email effect
Back in May, consumers probably first noticed the arrival of the GDPR regulations because they received a flood of emails from retailers and service providers of all kinds, notifying them that those organisations held personal information on them and offering them the option to review or delete it. Now that the dust has settled, the first evidence is emerging of what’s changed as a result of the legislation.
Recent research from the DMA suggests that shoppers are taking more control of the marketing that they receive, and that that’s likely to be as a result of the GDPR regulations. Its Consumer Email Tracker 2019 found that most consumers (59%) said they preferred brands to get in touch with them via email. It also found that respondents were signed up to fewer emails than they were before GDPR. In 2019, it said, shoppers received email messages from an average of nine different brands. That’s down from 12 in 2017. “The figures,” commented the DMA, “are a potential by-product of the new laws and consumers’ belief they have more control over the marketing emails they receive.”
It found that shoppers were more likely to sign up to receive brand emails because they wanted discounts and offers (51%) but were also likely to do so because they were a regular customer (46%) or because they had joined a loyalty scheme.
But while loyalty may encourage them to sign up, other factors led to them unsubscribing. The primary reason for unsubscribing was because people received too many messages (59%), followed by the decision to opt out because the messages were no longer relevant (43%) or because they didn’t recognise the brand (43%).
So just how do retailers take control? Most (70%) people, found the DMA study, unsubscribe through the brand website or by clicking a button in an email. Once they’ve done that, 40% expect never to hear from the brand again via email, or to only hear from them through transactional emails relating to a specific purchase (23%).
But a minority of shoppers (17%) also expect to be able to change their email preferences or complete a survey that shows marketers why they are leaving. That seems to be a smart option for retailers to offer, since those shoppers may well choose to tailor their agreement to suit their own preferences rather than opt out altogether. Asked how they respond when given control over how often a company gets in touch, 36% said they would like to reduce the frequency of emails, and 31% would like to choose the products or services they get emails about. Those two factors were among the key reasons why a consumer might hit unsubscribe. Marketers that get it right can continue to send customers messages – on their own terms.
“It’s fundamental,” said Rachel Aldighieri, managing director of the DMA, commenting on the organisation’s study “that marketers combine convenience and relevance, building relationships based on transparency and trust.”
And Phil Draper, chief marketing officer at dotdigital, which sponsored the DMA report, agrees. “Creating powerful two-way relationships with consumers should be a the core of all modern marketing strategies. It’s what consumers want and what marketers are working to deliver. The fact that brands have reduced the number of emails they’re sending is an indication that brands are focusing more on delivering relevant and interesting content.”
One retailer says that retailers operating in a GDPR world now use email differently. Jack Cooper, digital marketing manger at Andertons Music Co, said: “I think the goal posts for emails have definitely changed. It’s not so much a mass communication took as it was a few years ago when you might send a couple of hundred thousand people a mass email, and drive them to the website for a small percentage of sales.
“Our conundrum is making a business case so it’s small enough to be effective but large enough to be relevant to the user. Can we follow up the post-purchase campaign based on where the customer is in their lifecycle and in terms of relevance? I think we’re in that kind of period, working out if that’s going to be a long-term and successful piece of work for us. We’re fortunate that we have enough content to be able to do that, and I think it shows that the focus is on providing an experience rather than a hard sale approach.”
Engaging beyond email
Email may be the key channel for retailers to contact shoppers, but it is not the only one. The information they hold may also be used for text messages related to a transaction they have made, to send catalogues by post, or for notifications via a smartphone app. Some leading retailers are now making a virtue out of ensuring that their customers are clear what data they hold, and how they will use it.
Peter Thomas, CTO at Attraqt said on a recent InternetRetailing webinar, The Journey from Data to Shopping Experiences: Making AI Work For You, that trust and confidence were prerequisites to a good shopper experience. “GDPR has given rights to the shopper to find out what information is being held out them and to have control over that,” said Thomas. Many websites, he says, are currently presenting consent through the choice of accepting or rejecting website cookies. On clicking to find out more, users may discover that they can make more sophisticated choices to regulate the communications they are sent, and decide whether data can be passed to third parties for marketing purposes.
“For myself I’ve come very distrustful of that type of interaction because by default I’m agreeing to share everything – I’m not sharing just the data that’s going to enhance my shopping experience which is really why I want to do,” he said. But, he said, there was a better way, and one that with better implications for business reputations.
“A number of the clients that we’ve been working with are really tuned into this trusting connection with their shoppers because it’s a very important part of their brand,” said Thomas.
“They are deliberately designing their shopping experience to be very explicit about consent so that they present right up front exactly what information is collected, exactly what it’s used for and make it very clear how shoppers can revise their choices going forward, so there’s no confusion about what data is being collected. It’s very open and it generates a lot of confidence on the part of the user. Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. That’s very clear when you’re building customer confidence.”
How IRUK Top500 retailers handle consent
We took a look at a number of leading IRUK Top500 retailers to see how they deal with consent on their websites.
One Top500 retailer whose brand is built on trust is John Lewis. On clicking on the ‘sign me up for emails’ button on its website, shoppers are offered clear information about what type of messages they can expect to receive. Customers can then go on to sign in to an account and amend their marketing preferences, choosing whether to receive emails and get texts from John Lewis, Waitrose or John Lewis Finance. The retailer also points out how shoppers can use their smartphone settings to stop receiving notifications from the app.
Over at Marks & Spencer, the retailer has a video explaining what details it collects and how they are used to make personalised offers to shoppers through its M&S Sparks club. Those signed into its account can give or withdraw their consent to receive marketing messages. The retailer also advises shoppers on the fastest ways to unsubscribe from its text messages and emails.
Argos too enables those signed into accounts to amend their marketing opt ins, and also enables them to choose whether the site should remember them – and anything they have left in their trolleys against a future visit.
Finally, Amazon enables customers, once signed in, to determine their direct mail and email preferences, promising, “We’d like to stay in touch, but only in ways that you find useful.”
These leading retailers are enabling shoppers to ensure that they’re only getting the marketing information that they want, via the channel that they want to receive it. By doing so they’re not only working to comply with GDPR, but they’re also ensuring that the customer gets the level of engagement that they want, on the terms that they want it. That’s got to be good for fostering trusted relationships between retailer and customer well into the future.
This feature first appeared in the IRUK Top500 Brand Engagement Performance Dimension Report. Click here to explore this report further and here to find out more about InternetRetailing’s research reports.