Finding the line between digital creepy and cool

Discussion
Jun 01, 2015

A survey from RichRelevance found that digital enhancements that help shoppers find relevant products and information as well as navigate the store are generally considered "cool." Digital capabilities that identify, track and use location and demographics still land on the "creepy" side.

Ranking various digital services from "cool" to "creepy," the survey of 1,016 consumers conducted in April found:

  • Product scan displaying relevant product reviews and recommendations on mobile device: 76 percent cool;
  • Interactive map showing item locations and efficient store path: 69 percent cool;
  • Personalized product recommendations, promotions and coupons that pop up on your mobile device based on your location in a store: 44 percent cool;
  • Digital screens displaying dynamic prices tailored just to you: 42 percent creepy;
  • Digital screens in dressing rooms that display recommended products based on your current items and past purchases: 55 percent creepy;
  • Facial recognition identifying your age and gender to display targeted advertisements on digital screens: 73 percent creepy;
  • A salesperson greeting you by name when your mobile device triggers your entrance in-store: 74 percent creepy.
  • Facial recognition technology identifying you as a high-value shopper to a sales associate: 75 percent creepy.

Mobile marketing

A survey that came out earlier this year from Accenture in the same vein found shoppers conflicted on how personalized they want their shopping experience to be. The survey of 1,000 consumers conducted last October found that nearly 60 percent of consumers want real-time promotions and offers, yet only 20 percent want retailers to know their current location and only 14 percent want to share their browsing history.

The Accenture survey also found that while consumers liked some personalization tactics, areas deemed "too personal" included:

  • Retailers giving them feedback from their friends online;
  • Retailers suggesting they not buy items online outside their budget at big ticket destinations such as home improvement and electronics stores;
  • Store associates providing in-store recommendations based upon their family health issues.

 

In your opinion, when do communications or actions based on shopping history, demographics or location cross the line from cool to creepy? Do you see any ways stores can turn creepy features today into cool ones tomorrow? Should they even bother trying?

Braintrust
"The falseness of a lot of this makes it creepy. Really? You’re going to use an iBeacon to ping your counter help and serve up my face and spending patterns and think that’s helpful?"
"When the actions are not so much helpful to the shopper, but are overtly designed to sell you something and the data is pretty much all used to that end, that is where the problems arise. I think a challenge for retailers will be this balance. Measurement will be key so that actions that are both helpful and well-received lead to sales."
"It’s all about context, and to give Seth Godin his due, it’s about permission too. As a shopper, I may have used my Facebook credentials to log in to your site, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve given you permission to act on things you know about me or my friends that you’ve gleaned from those credentials."

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30 Comments on "Finding the line between digital creepy and cool"

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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

The falseness of a lot of this makes it creepy. Really? You’re going to use an iBeacon to ping your counter help and serve up my face and spending patterns and think that’s helpful?

Those who are working in stores now are very tech-savvy and I’m sure would feel it was the height of awkwardness to use the name of someone they had never met to try to appear friendly.

Worse, one-third still live at home, one-third have never had a credit card or drive — they resent the fact they are living at a lower scale than their parents. Giving them spending patterns, especially for luxury items, would just add fuel to the fire.

Why the heck can’t retailers just invest in the people in their stores to make them more human — not robotic?

Gib Bassett
BrainTrust

When the actions are not so much helpful to the shopper, but are overtly designed to sell you something and the data is pretty much all used to that end, that is where the problems arise. I think a challenge for retailers will be this balance. Measurement will be key so that actions that are both helpful and well-received lead to sales.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

The difference between cool and creepy is customer control. When consumers can control the flow of information and format it to fit their desires it’s cool. When retailers adopt the role of Big Brother it’s creepy, so creepy that it could cause consumers to shop elsewhere. Retailers should lay out their array of digital features, carefully explain the potential benefits of each and allow consumers to choose which ones they want and which they don’t. Transparency and honesty are the watchwords.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust
In many cases, facial recognition technologies are used to produce results that may make for “dashboards” that are interesting to marketers but never overcome being creepy because all too often the results from this technology are not leveraged to actually produce valued information or results for the shopper. I have used this technology and if implemented correctly and positioned accurately with the various stakeholders it can provide invaluable insights that can benefit ALL stakeholders. Using the term “facial recognition” is very misleading and part of the perception challenge. There is technology that is totally anonymous and I refer to it as “gaze tracking” or “eye tracking” as it does not incorporate ANY facial recognition software. It is NOT “Minority Report.” It anonymously tracks human eyes as to what they are looking at and where they are looking. This technology has been used for years in measuring and monitoring website designs. Unfortunately this difference has not been properly positioned by either side of the discussion, pro or con. Credit card and driver’s license information has been used for very creepy purposes by retailers and brands alike for years and very little is said about those practices. Perhaps using gaze tracking to… Read more »
Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

It’s all about context, and to give Seth Godin his due, it’s about permission too. As a shopper, I may have used my Facebook credentials to log in to your site, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve given you permission to act on things you know about me or my friends that you’ve gleaned from those credentials. But if you give me a “share with friends” promotion where you promise to let me know how my friends react to it, and I share it on Facebook, okay, now you have permission to talk to me in the context of sharing things my friends are doing in relation to the brand. That, to me, is just one example of the difference between creepy and cool

There’s a long road to get there, and few retailers are patient enough to invest in consumer relationships in that way, but I think it’s the only way they’re going to be able to cross the line from creepy to cool. Cool = help me solve a problem I’ve shared with you. Creepy = I didn’t ask you to do that. I don’t think there’s any way around that dividing line.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Not all of us want to go to a store where, to paraphrase the Cheers theme song, everybody knows your name, knows the things you like, your size, your color preferences, and identifies you as a commission salesperson’s dream.

Years ago when our oldest daughter was in college she was concerned about my reaction when she quit a part-time job at Walmart. Why did she quit? Because she was required to read the name on every credit card then thank the person by name. I supported her position as I didn’t want it being done to me.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

I think the big differentiator is opt-in. If I have registered I would accept personalized recommendations and replenishment reminders.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

It may be worth it to give shoppers the opportunity to opt-in to specific features when they download an app. (Much in the way that registering for daily and weekly emails from a news source allows you to choose the topics that you are interested in and the frequency with which they should email you to keep you informed but not annoyed.) This will allow shoppers access to everything they find cool and allow them to feel safe from everything creepy. Also, actively asking for permission and giving specifics of what they are signing up for will likely turn some of those creepy things into cool features.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I manage dinner discussions with retailers for a living, and it’s a rare event when the word “creepy” doesn’t come up in conversation.

The key to the use of personalization technologies is to find a way to incent customers to opt in. With the correct value proposition these technologies are very valuable. I’ll predict that within a year’s time, we’ll have some great examples of how to boost sales and engender loyalty without making the customer say “how the heck did THAT happen?”

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

When they are deployed.

At least, that’s how most people feel about it. And I think the argument that this is “generational” and the “Generation X and Generation Y don’t mind like Boomers do” is dead wrong. Generations X and Y understand even better than we Boomers do just how all-seeing tracking apps can be. That might make them even more averse than we blissful Boomers who think it is “neat” that our phone knows where we are when we get lost in Walmart.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust
In the history of psychology there have been countless studies on “personal space.” In the physical world, each person has a “comfort bubble” of physical distance, which is typically about a meter. Once someone invades that “comfort bubble,” we become uncomfortable and tense. Another aspect of the physical “comfort bubble” is that it differs by country and culture. In cities with very dense populations that do a lot of commuting on subways, they have a much higher tolerance of physical closeness and touch versus someone living in wide open rural areas. Consumers are just now defining their “comfort bubble” in digital. Definitions of what is comfortable would probably vary greatly by age. The limits and parameters in digital space are much more “fuzzy” than in the physical world. But make no mistake about it, when customers feel “violated” in the digital world their response is very physical and emotional. When customers are truly “creeped out” by having their personal identity used in a way that disturbs them, they in fact use the term “violated” to describe the experience. And, if the experience perceived as “violation,” many consumers will not return to that store or web site. Retailers need to proceed… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Somehow this is beginning to remind me of the old saying “Big Brother is watching.” I prefer not to be watched or located in a store by my smartphone. Leave me alone. When I want/need help, I will ask for it.

Dan Raftery
BrainTrust

There are several moving scales here, not simply the “cool to creepy” one. As people regardless of age experience positives over time, I expect more will become accepting of the technology discussed here. Simultaneously, the technology is changing. And data handlers are changing the way they use the information. So it is really up to the handlers and how they affect the experiences. What is creepy to me today could be cool in a couple of years and vice-versa.

Bravo to Steve Montgomery’s daughter for objecting to the reading of a shopper’s name from the credit card scan. I think it is counterproductive to building relations. It’s a turn-off. Even a very regular customer doesn’t expect the cashier to remember their name.

This is where facial recognition works. You recognize the shopper? Show it. Say hi. No name needed. Recognition is recognizable if it is genuine.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Give the customer what they want and help them along the shopping journey. Don’t push stuff in their faces and NEVER act like you know them personally when you don’t.

It’s not about sell, sell, sell anymore. It’s about serving your customer through communications and actions.

… And that’s my two cents.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I get the “creepy” thing. However, if a customer LOVES their store and is willing to give the store their info and the store tells them exactly what to expect, the creepy factor becomes the cool factor. These customers are your best, most loyal, etc. Deliver value, stay connected and watch the relationship build.

David Zahn
Guest

Great discussion and very relevant comments. What occurs to me is:

  1. Let the shopper decide what and how much information they wish to share (opt-in) and when they wish to share it.
  2. What helps the shopper is cool, what SOLELY helps the retailer is creepy.
  3. Just because you CAN do it doesn’t mean you should (technology allows for many opportunities to collect information, however not every possibility is one worth pursuing).

I would be very interested in hearing from people outside the demographic represented here to see if this is universal or specific to those of us who participate here.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
2 years 1 month ago

In a word: trust. Retailers have so mismanaged the use of their customer data that the customers are inherently mistrusting of them. With trust comes permission but before there is trust it must be earned by the retailer.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Read a great comment recently by someone who observed that when they go shopping, being anonymous is part of the experience they seek. Somehow that truth has been lost amid all the hype about “personalization.”

When I stop to think about it, depending on my mood I’ll shift aisles to avoid having a conversation while shopping. I dodge sales people until I’m ready to talk with them. Shopping may be social with the people I’m with but anti-social beyond that.

All-in-all, this is far more complicated than the tech invaders often seem to realize.

This list is interesting. In truth, creepy is often situational. Using my name may be acceptable in one situation but not in another.

Anyone making decisions about personalization needs keep this in mind.

W. Frank Dell II
BrainTrust

Cool is assisting the customer to make a decision or find the right product. Creepy is when you communicate things about the customer that they don’t want others to know.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The real issue from this survey is who initiates the content/data look-up, not what the look-up is. The creepiest stuff happens when either no permission or one permission is granted and the store uses that as a gateway to look-up and associate other data. For example “Facial recognition technology identifying you as a high-value shopper to a sales associate” means that the store assumes that a shopper’s facial image is a piece of data that they have a right to associate with buying data in their databases. The surveyed shoppers feel that’s not so. If they did, the creepy factor would be very low. Of course a similar thing happens when a store associate has an ongoing relationship with a shopper and kinda knows their spending, but that’s a personal trust based relationship built over time.

Bottom line, permission based uses of technology and data (every personal piece of data) will garner much higher acceptance than CMO driven concepts of how to pound marketing strategy into the consumer’s in-store presence. Remember marketing people: consumer first, tactics second.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Creepy is to the eye of the beholder. In general, features that are private to the customer like a web browser or mobile device feels less intrusive when an associate knows more about you than you expect. Location is a tricky one since if you ask people they say they don’t want to be “tracked” but they want geo specific offers.

I think part of what needs to be done is for retailers to figure out how to convince shoppers that tracking location history is different than doing location aware offers. Fine distinction, but it is important. Also I think newer generations are simply more open to sharing their location in general through social media geo tagging, which changes the game for the future.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

This is greenfield area. The one approach to rely on is to test various approaches and learn better ways to connect with customers without offending them or making them feel creepy.

There is enough research around, some of it quoted here, that helps retailers to draw some soft boundaries, eliminating some tactics that are likely to offend customers. Within the core, there is a lot of experimentation to be had. Marketers may want to consider the mantra that the “customer comes first” to ensure that anything that is trialed is truly in the best interest of the customer, not just good for the business.

Grace Kim
Guest
Grace Kim
2 years 1 month ago

Customers can perceive targeted communications as “creepy” if they are NOT aware that they are sharing information that identifies themselves. For example, retailers focusing on social customer service and engagement communicate with customers on public social channels like Facebook or Twitter are generally expected to deliver a customized conversation. Afterall, if a customer identifies location or product/service description, they are asking for personalized service. Overall, I agree with previous comments that if the communication is generally helpful, then it won’t be considered as creepy.

Bryan Pearson
BrainTrust

In general, the line from clever to creepy is crossed when consumers are targeted using information they may not fully realize or know they have shared. In fact, LoyaltyOne research showed that 32% of consumers were accepting of tracking ads on unrelated websites when surfing the web and 73% indicated that they would not like to receive offers on a smartphone when near a retailer. It is a very fine line that retailers must walk. Retailers may think they are providing the best experience by targeting customers and anticipating their needs. But customers become unsettled when transactional and behavioral data is not used with skill.

Stores can make sure they stay on the right side of the clever versus creepy line by making trust-building with customers their first step. Then, once a retailer has shown it can be responsible with information the customer has shared, the customer will be less likely to react negatively to future campaigns.

In general, there are some subjects that are best-avoided all together. Retailers should think twice before crossing into very personal areas such as financial information or questions about children.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Digital is certainly a frenemy to the consumer in regard to their retail shopping habits. When a consumer controls the digital experience, it is cool. When consumer control is manipulated, it is questionable. And, when the consumer is targeted, it is creepy.

Clearly, per this survey, digital enhancements through the consumers smartphone are generally well received. It is when the consumer is not controlling the digital experience, and barraged by digital screens in the dressing room giving recommendations, that they get uncomfortable. And, when targeted by facial recognition ads or insincere, overly personal sales people, consumers get creeped out. And rightfully so.

Digital should work for the consumer, not against. Digital should enable the consumer, not scare them. There is great information in this survey that retails can use to become more digitally savvy.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Knowing the audience to which you are targeting your campaigns is the first step. You can virtually not get too creepy with true brand enthusiasts, for example. They are willing to hand over almost any info, and if you can identify with any means possible in order to make offers, they are willing to participate in those campaigns. As more technology get adopted by consumers, more methods of consumer interaction will also be adopted without or with less hesitation.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

It’s cool when the consumer can follow the store; customize what they want to follow from the retailer and how often they want to see it. Ultimately it’s on their terms and for them to control access and sharing.

It’s creepy when the store follows you; identifies affinities, suggests items, knows your location, and shares your information and activities with your friends or others.

How do you turn creepy to cool? Ask the consumer first, and make it an “opt in” instead of an “opt out.”

Mark Price
BrainTrust

The differences between cool and creepy vary tremendously by generation. Millennial’s do not suffer from the same phobias about companies using their information to improve the customer experience. The point at which an experience goes from cool to creepy to Millennials has more to do with whether or not the interaction is viewed as Big Brother rather than providing context-specific information and recommendations at the decision point.

Retailers must be aware that much of their customer base remains Baby Boomers and Generation X; at the same time, those retailers must be moving aggressively to improve the experience for the generation that will have the bulk of the purchasing power in the future.

The only approach that works is to provide control to the customer (which most retailers are afraid of) and allow them to opt in or out to specific types of communication.

Michael Day
BrainTrust

That “line” between digital creepy and cool is going to be different for different people, and perhaps for different demographics. What is certain is that the cat is already out of the bag on this. Personalized offers and delivering relevance to consumers works. People buy more. Amazon showed us the future of retail and retail marketing over a decade ago. Know your customer well, at a granular level. Leverage the data and manage the technology to speak directly to your customers, offering them highly lifestyle-relevant products and services, etc.

If you are a retailer now and you are not at least directionally working on enabling your organization to deliver data-driven personalization and relevance, then you risk a serious competitive disadvantage in the days ahead. As the surveys indicate, most consumers want personalization and relevance. They know the brands they trust will not betray that trust by taking personalization “too far.” The best brands let their customers decide what level of personalization they, the individual customers, prefer.

Mitchell Fields
Guest
Mitchell Fields
1 year 6 months ago
I think there are some good ideas here, but frankly the consumer is not ready for this type marketing and maybe never will be. It’s too invasive. I do think there is opportunity for a few of these like: Displaying relevant product reviews and recommendations on mobile device as long a the consumer can willingly opt in and out. This information should be accessible by going to the retailers website and seeing the reviews anyways, which most shoppers do this already and if not they should be. Interactive map showing item locations and efficient store path is a great idea The Home Depot already accomplishes this by listing the Aisle and Bay numbers for products that are in store. Personalized coupons might be interesting, but I could see this becoming overwhelming to the consumer and least likely to be adopted. Everything else in the list is crossing the line between helping the consumer and constantly trying to sell something. I know I personally like knowing where to find a product in the store and I like to see the reviews right there. If I need anything further I will ask a store rep. Most of my research is done way… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The falseness of a lot of this makes it creepy. Really? You’re going to use an iBeacon to ping your counter help and serve up my face and spending patterns and think that’s helpful?"
"When the actions are not so much helpful to the shopper, but are overtly designed to sell you something and the data is pretty much all used to that end, that is where the problems arise. I think a challenge for retailers will be this balance. Measurement will be key so that actions that are both helpful and well-received lead to sales."
"It’s all about context, and to give Seth Godin his due, it’s about permission too. As a shopper, I may have used my Facebook credentials to log in to your site, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve given you permission to act on things you know about me or my friends that you’ve gleaned from those credentials."

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