Stalking Privacy

TargetedTHE ERA OF INDIVIDUAL PRIVACY may turn out to be a mere blip in the sequence of human history, as the smothering embrace of the World Wide Web makes our every click and consumption act a new molecule in the Big Data tsunami. Marketers salivate at the potential to sift the flow and aim relevant offers with pinpoint accuracy.

If they have their way unimpeded, privacy may turn out to be the human right that never was. People with means may put up barriers to make their personal information difficult to obtain. Everybody else would stand naked in the virtual town square, shielded only by the sheer numbers of their peers.

No wonder reasonable people worry that targeting may easily transmute into stalking when marketers apply automation to their process. The mechanisms and practices are not readily visible to normal citizens. I think this makes the reality both better and worse than it really seems.

This morning I offered this perspective on RetailWire.com as part of a discussion, Are Shoppers Entitled to Privacy While They Shop? This is a topic rife with assumptions that deserve to be challenged.

Here’s my take:

There is no natural right to privacy in the public domain. But protecting privacy may be the preferred practice for marketers and even governments.

If I enter a place of business (in-store or online), I should reasonably expect that my behaviors are open for observation.

But I’m not obligated to like or accept this. I can vote with my feet, clicks and dollars by preferentially visiting or patronizing establishments that adhere to a less creepy standard.

So I would propose that marketers make a habit of disclosure that is not buried on page 18 of the terms of use. Reminders about shopper tracking should be automatic and opt-out mechanisms provided.

If consumer privacy can be bypassed in the name of marketing relevancy, then certainly the marketers themselves should have zero expectation of privacy about their methods and objectives.

Disclose. Disclose. Disclose. Let shoppers tell you what they will accept; then market to meet that expectation.

[Tenser excerpt from Are Shoppers Entitled to Privacy While They Shop? discussion on RetailWire.com, Mar. 15, 2013.]
© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

In-Store Sensing Tops Online Metrics

I POSTED THE FOLLOWING commentary this morning on RetailWire.com as part of a discussion, Can Online Shopper Metrics Be Brought to Stores? I believe online innovation has influenced expectations in the bricks and mortar world. Now stores are poised to deliver sensing that online players can’t ever provide.

I must disclose a recent, prior influence. This post appears just a few days after I made a very informative visit to eTailWest in Palm Springs. Talking with vendors on the exhibit floor, I was struck by their degree of online-only thinking. Innovative analytics tools abounded, but bricks & mortar perspective was in relatively short supply. Since 90% of retail sales still take place in stores, some balance is in order.

Here’s my take:

Online metrics have certainly raised the bar, but in-store sensing will bring its own particular nuances—in some ways surpassing online practices.

The In-Store Implementation Network identifies five senses of in-store: Demand, Items, Messages, Employees and Shoppers. DIMES is part of this 2011 workshop. If you are in a rush, click forward to slide #22:

Tracking shopper movement within the physical store is only one element of the Shopper term of the equation, as I see it.

The present discussion drills deeper into shopper data alternatives—to consider whether tracking mobile phones is a better choice versus analyzing security video versus installing special-purpose video networks versus tracking transponders mounted on shopping carts. (Have we totally given up on electric eyes and grad students with clipboards?)

Further choices include: Do we analyze whole paths or stick to zones? Do we infer shopper demographics from video images? Do we mesh tracking data with POS transaction data?

However data is captured, appropriate analytics must be applied to extract managerially useful insights. The outputs must be timely and in a format that is accessible to decision-makers.

This is a lively sector for our business. With many competitors vying to be the industry standard, I can only offer some general advice:

#1 – Don’t assume comprehensive understanding of your shoppers based solely upon path tracking data
#2 – Never install more technology than is needed to achieve the desired objective
#3 – Expect best practice to change rapidly in this arena
#4 – Results will vary a lot based on channel of trade

[Tenser excerpt from “Can Online Shopper Metrics Be Brought to Stores?” discussion on RetailWire.com, Feb. 5, 2013.]
© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

Price Transparency: An Opaque Matter?

ALMOST OVERLOOKED during the Autumn business conference-slash-election season was a nicely-done bit of research about the new price transparency.

Prepared by RetailWire.com and underwritten by IBM Smarter Commerce, the study “Pricing Transparency: Can Retailers Regain Control?” was released October 5. It was conducted in an effort to better understand the phenomenon known as “show-rooming,” where shoppers use apps on their mobile phones to check merchandise prices while shopping in-store.

The study authors define “pricing transparency” as “The ability to learn the relative price positions of a particular item across competitive retailers.”  The trend had some folks pretty nervous around mid-year, especially retailers who specialize in high-consideration purchases, like consumer electronics.

The findings indicated that Price Transparency falls mid-level on the continuum of general retailer concerns – below the economy, competition and consumer behavior. Considered among pricing practices, however,  respondents did worry about consumer price sensitivity in general (ranked as #1 concern by 35%) and transparency in particular (ranked #1 by 21%).

Increased price sensitivity seems to be an enduring consequence of the recent protracted economic downturn. Many shoppers have re-evaluated their purchasing behaviors. Smart phone apps both enable and reinforce these behavioral changes.

Retailers have some effective defenses available beyond absolute lowest prices. Most are related to enabling shopper success in other dimensions. Superior, relevant assortment, exclusive items, and excellent item availability all can have a positive influence here, the findings suggest.

The best practice formula remains somewhat murky in the brave new world of transparent prices, but this research begins to make matters clearer. An Executive Summary of the “Pricing Transparency: Can Retailers Regain Control?” study, can be downloaded at: http://www.retailwire.com/page/10133/.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser
(This article was commissioned by IBM, which is granted the right of republication. All other rights reserved.)

Lessons from the Transit of Venus

YESTERDAY I ATTENDED an event that will never be repeated in your or my lifetime. It was a viewing of the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun. That’s something like a solar eclipse by the moon, except much rarer and quite a bit harder to observe since Venus is much farther away.

The kind folks at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort here in Tucson hosted the afternoon on the hotel patio, and scientists from The Planetary Science Institute, also based here, were our very enthusiastic guides. They set up several specialized solar telescopes for public viewing and presented a series of lectures which explained what was happening and what it meant, astronomically speaking.

The story of the transit of Venus is as much about cultural history as it is about science. For many centuries, natural scientists have been aware of the relative movement of the sun, moon and planets. Venus is the most visible object in the night sky, after the moon itself, but it is not normally visible in the day time. The transit itself happens in pairs, eight years apart; pairs then follow alternately by spans of 121½ years and 105½years. This makes it nearly impossible for a single observer to study.

According to the PSI scientists, it took several centuries for European astronomers, working in concert, to recognize and work out the basic facts of the transit. Once they did get it figured, it yielded important insights about such matters as the distance and size of the sun and whether more distant stars might also have planetary systems.

With the special telescopes it was easy to for us guests to observe the dark dot of Venus as it crept slowly across the solar disk. Several sunspots and solar prominences were a fascinating bonus. The lecturers had tons of anecdotes and insights about what could be learned from observing and measuring the transit.

Since I tend to view our world (and other worlds!) through the peculiar lens of the retail marketer, I was bound to consider what lessons we might derive from the transit of Venus. Several learnings came to mind:

You can see a lot just by looking.* The transit of Venus is hard to view due to the overwhelming brightness of the sun, but as I learned yesterday it’s not that difficult if you have a plan and the right scope. Active observation is key. This made me think about the challenges of in-store sensing and of capturing shopper insights in general. Valuable observations don’t happen by accident; they are a result of carefully planned and executed practices. (*Props to the Yankee sage Yogi Berra.)

Some misses are forever. June 5 marked your last chance to see a transit of Venus. It won’t happen again until 2117. Luckily astronomers recorded this event, so you may watch the video. How many merchandising opportunities and rare marketing insights pass us by just like this? What can we do now to ensure that we don’t miss out on future learnings that may enable us to to be better prepared for the next window of opportunity? In retail merchandising and marketing, it begins with active sensing and collaborative data sharing.

Long cycles are hard to track. Under the most fortunate of circumstances, an individual astronomer gets to see the transit of Venus twice in a lifetime. Many never see it once. Even the lucky ones must count on other recorded observations to grasp its periodicity. With such a slow rhythm, it’s tough to draw reliable conclusions about the nature of the phenomenon. In the product marketing world, we discover that fast-turning consumable products offer some informational advantages as compared with infrequently purchased, higher consideration products, like cars, TVs and appliances. With many fewer data points and behaviors to draw upon, slow-moving consumer goods engender a less granular picture for marketers.

Sometimes you just need a team. Understanding the transit of Venus and its implications has required numerous observations separated by both time and physical distance. The relevant data has been collected by teams of scientists and coordinated among them with a common intent. Consumer insights also accumulate from observations collected across many locations and moments in time. You can’t unlock their potential alone. The implications are too vast, and the effort must be shared and sustained over time to reveal actionable insights and best practices.

The transit of shoppers through retail stores can reveal insights that we can best capture through systematic tracking and observation. When we can get the shoppers themselves engaged in documenting and sharing their actions and preferences as through mobile devices even greater wins are possible.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser

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