Managing customer data privacy in a multichannel world

by Bill Harriss on April 14, 2010

Bill Harriss

According to a recent study from Forrester Research,* 43% of shoppers switch their retailer of choice after going online to research a particular product.  And, they say, 70% of all consumers go online before going into a store to shop.

With all this online consumer research and shopping activity, marketers are pushing the boundaries on data collection and privacy.

The latest frontier for marketers is taking offline data such as income, credit rating, home value, savings, past purchases, number of children living at home and other data, and merging that with the blooming online data stream.

The offline data — including extremely sensitive, personally identifiable information — has been used by the direct-marketing industry for decades. But only recently have marketers begun to connect that trove to online behavior. The resulting picture is revolutionary for marketers, but could trigger a rude awakening in the form of regulation now being considered by Congress.

Shifting boundaries

In the past, marketers have drawn the line at data related to personal information such as health status. But as targeting gets more precise, and consumers themselves volunteer more and more about themselves online, the question is whether those categories should be expanded.

Over the last two decades, marketers could point to the few complaints registered with states’ attorneys general about direct marketing to show that the public doesn’t worry much about it. One exception would be telemarketing, which resulted in Do Not Call Lists. Today, most online targeting is based on data collected online, but that’s changing, and both agencies and marketers are more interested in bringing in new offline data to better assign value to ad inventory and understand how consumers are interacting across multiple online and offline channels.

Marketers need to do the right thing.

Admittedly, most companies are not out to cross the line on what information about a consumer could be shared in a way that violates hard-earned trust and destroys a relationship they work so hard to establish. However, as online and offline data capture and analysis boundaries are tested and expanded, there will be more and more attention given to this emerging area. Data-driven agencies and marketers must be vigilant about how they intend to use identifiable consumer data to ensure that their customers have a clear understanding about and confidence in how this information gets used.


* Sucharita Mulpuru, et al. “U.S. Online Retail Forecast, 2009 to 2014.” Forrester Research, March 5, 2010.

About the Author:

Bill Harris is a Practice Leader in the Healthcare and Consumer Markets for SIGMA Marketing Group.  Connect with Bill on , or follow him on .

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