Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.
What's often missing in the Big Data debate is that what is simply data to a retailer can have emotional meaning to customers.
That member of your loyalty program who purchased a carton of cigarettes for the first time in a year? It's a data point to a retailer, but a sign of a shattering defeat to that loyalty card member. That engagement ring purchase? To a man or woman left at the altar, kind reminders to come in for a free cleaning are salt in a wound.
This is a story about a woman named Brianna. In her early twenties, Brianna got pregnant. The situation wasn't ideal, but she was excited and set up a baby registry on Amazon. "I was young, I hadn't heard the wisdom of waiting until after the first trimester to, you know, act pregnant," she said.
She lost the baby. She went back to Amazon and deleted the registry, but e-mails from vendors continued to pour in. Carefully timed offers over the months cheerfully reminded with her variations on "the baby's almost here — do you have everything you need?"
"It was a punch in the face, every time," she said. She eventually turned to spam controls as a sort of nuclear option.
"Since I'm a web developer, the assumption that I must have allowed Amazon to share my e-mail with those vendors (because I didn't) click the right checkbox when setting up the registry just added to the overall self-loathing and guilt I was feeling for not doing pregnancy right, not being good enough to be a mother," she said.
Brianna today has two healthy children. She's getting special offers for both of them — often creeped out that they contain so much specific information, since she said she never signed up for a single thing with the second child.
She's given a lot of thought to how retailers might be more sensitive to things going on in the lives of their shoppers when they make it their business to know about those things. If she had bought a book on grieving pregnancy loss, would Amazon have known to back off? What about all those mommy blogs she was reading about coping?
Big data is, of course, not the kind of thing that lends itself to individual decisions about individual customers. That doesn't scale. But that makes it so much more important that retailers be very, very careful about how they use it.
What's the likelihood that retailers can learn to prevent insensitive offers while continuing to persue personalization?