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Conclusion: IREU Merchandising Report 2019

How much is data worth? Until recently, this is a question that’s rarely been asked by consumers. For so long as handing over personal information has resulted in better service, most customers have seemed content to trust businesses.

Without suggesting this situation is about to change overnight, it is nevertheless worth conducting a thought experiment: what would happen if this were no longer the case?

We ask this question because there is increasing disquiet over the way tech companies have handled data, whether that be because of bank data breaches, targeted political messaging or, as recently in the UK, vulnerable teenagers accessing self-harm imagery via social media.

A pattern is discernible and it would be a brave retailer indeed that claimed it could never become involved in such controversies, especially in a world where digital technologies are increasingly becoming integral to all kinds of devices we use on a day-to-day basis.

More generally, as the rise of web 3.0, the semantic web, whatever you want to call it, continues, there has rightly been a revisiting of what we might call the data settlement – and especially the idea that companies own their customers’ data. Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid project, for instance, is based on the idea that users should control their data rather than businesses.

To return from such grand thoughts to Merchandising, customers who grow more used to controlling their own data on a day-to-day basis may come to question techniques that rely too heavily on retailers using this data.

While the market will not change overnight, we would suggest that consumers will become more careful of their data in the years ahead. Retailers need to be aware of the challenge this shift will pose to current ways of doing business – and perhaps remember that nimbleness and an ability to adapt quickly are just as important as the capacity to crunch the numbers and create clever Merchandising algorithims.

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