Bill Would Limit Personal Data Retailers Collect

Discussion
Apr 28, 2011
George Anderson

Fifty-three percent of respondents to a RetailWire poll
in February said that obtaining zip codes of customers was somewhat or very
critical for retail marketing efforts. The California Supreme Court may have
been cognizant of that view but in a recent decision nonetheless made it illegal
for retailers to collect customers’ zip
information when they paid with credit cards. While collecting zips might be
good for retailers, the court reasoned, it violated the state’s right
to privacy laws.

Far away from California in Louisiana, legislation is being
considered that seeks to keep retailers from collecting personal data for marketing
purposes.

Rep. Austin Badon, who introduced the legislation, told The Times-Picayune,
he was asked to supply personal information by a store clerk when he wanted
to make a purchase.

"Why do I need to to give you my phone number to buy dog food," he
asked the clerk.

Many of Mr. Badon’s constituents have reported being
asked to supply personal data including, telephone numbers, zip codes and more.

Mr.
Badon has expressed a willingness to amend the bill to address practical concerns
of retailers and others.

Discussion Questions: Do you feel retailers are overreaching on the personal information they collect from consumers? What are legitimate pieces of information about consumers that retailers need to collect?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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18 Comments on "Bill Would Limit Personal Data Retailers Collect"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Gathering information about consumers is an age-old tug of war. With the Internet teaching consumers that their personal information is valuable, consumers will provide information when they receive something of value. Walking into a store and making a purchase should not require divulging personal information. Perhaps the store should offer a discount on the next purchase as an incentive to get information.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 7 days ago

We give and give and get nothing in return! That’s been the ugly pattern with giving our personal information at retail.

Data collection has long been looked at as a means unto itself. Retailers have clamored to collect as much as they can at POS but all too often do nothing meaningful with it. If they do anything at all, it’s often marginally relevant, less than timely and clumsy in delivery. In many cases all consumers get is a credit card offer.

I personally believe that we would be surprised how much personal information consumers would be willing to share if in return they were given relevant, timely and meaningful offers, advice and rewards in return. Retailers need to focus far less on how to collect the data and more on what to do with it once they get it!

I still maintain however, that we will one day look back nostalgically at privacy as a relic of the 20th century.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 7 days ago

I was once asked by a key CEO, “Why should we let your client know our success secrets?” I quickly computerized my thoughts and replied, “Mr. X, do you know how long a secret is? Twenty seconds.” He was startled but we got the deal.

I believe in privacy and detest being asked for private information when checking out. But one way or the other, legal or near-legal, savvy retailers will find a way to get the data necessary for their marketing plans (and for whom they sell that data to).

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Not sure if it is true for all, but the reason that many gas stations ask for zip code information when paying at the pump is simple: It helps minimize fraud. That being said when asked in a retail store where I am interacting with a clerk face to face and am asked for phone number, zip, code, email address, etc. I simply say no.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
10 years 7 days ago

Ask a shopper to divulge their cell phone number when they buy dogfood, and some of them will be so annoyed that they’ll talk to their congressperson. Ask a shopper to provide an email address or Facebook identity to get updates on great deals, and people jump at the opportunity.

Here’s a rule of thumb: whenever you ask for a shopper’s personal information, make it optional and make it clear why you are asking, and how it benefits the shopper. If you can’t make a clear and compelling case to a shopper, they are probably right to be withholding the information.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
10 years 7 days ago

California is just downright silly. Does anyone actually believe in privacy anymore? If I can be Googled, Tweeted, Facebooked, videoed then sending me a coupon on my iPhone is really no big deal. If the government really wanted to be helpful they could give us a way to truly block the ads we don’t want. Now there’s an APP!

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Why do we continue to make these issues so difficult? This is very simple. If the individual knows it and allows, then it is OK. If not, it is wrong and clearly what we are generically calling an invasion of privacy. But, in reality, it is theft of private data, no matter how “appropriate” the intentions are.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Privacy continues to be an issue because retailers cannot articulate the supposed benefits provided. To the consumer, it looks like snooping, plain and simple. Until the industry can explain why customers should give up their phone numbers, customers will be suspicious.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 7 days ago
If personalization and relevance are the objective, then there must be a sacrifice of personal privacy to make that possible. This is axiomatic, in my opinion, and it leads to several observations: 1) Personal information is very valuable, to both good and bad actors. When an individual chooses to share or expose their personal information, there ought to be a quid pro quo – better service; more relevant offers; cash payment. 2) Personal privacy is pretty much over. It was an artifact of the 20th century now being blown to smithereens by personal media. We should all behave as if everything we do may be knowable by others. This might lead to a more thoughtful, respectful culture. 3) California is hardly on its own when it comes to draconian data privacy laws. In the past 18 months or so, new regulations have been passed in 47 states. This presents a challenging environment for “legitimate” marketers who want to accumulate shopper data. We may anticipate a spate of court tests in coming months – some of… Read more »
Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 7 days ago

Asking for information (like email or phone number) that can uniquely identify a customer is wrong and ought to be illegal. Asking for non-unique information such as a ZIP code which can (presumably) help a retailer better serve its customers by cross-referencing geo-socio-economic datasets is benign. Lumping the two practices together essentially amounts to privacy “hysteria.”

Retailers: walk the high road and do not solicit personal information that can help track a single customer.

Law makers: Don’t lump together all data-collection practices.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

It’s ironic that we’re debating the privacy issues around asking for zip codes in the same week we find out that our iPhones are transmitting every place we go to Apple.

I understand why retailers have wanted to collect zip codes at the POS. It helps them understand where they are pulling customers from. In truth, the area code plus first three digits of the phone number would theoretically tell the retailer the same type of info–there is no need to collect the last four digits. Of course, with the explosion of mobile phones, it ends up telling you not so much anyway. I still have a Massachusetts mobile number even though I’ve lived in Florida for 8 years now.

So, do I think asking for a zip code is an invasion of privacy? No. It’s just an annoyance. Do I think asking for a phone number is walking down a slippery slope–yes, plus it’s actually not even necessary.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Take a Valium, California. (Oh, I forgot, you already do.) Well, lighten up. I’ve never had a clerk say they “had to” have my zip code or whatever. If I want to say no, I do. Never had a transaction cancelled as a result. I don’t think many retailers are stupid enough to refuse to sell people things if they don’t want to give out their zip code or hat size. If they are that stupid, they deserve to lose the business. And as for a zip code, what harm can come of giving that out? Hey, I’ve been a world-class paranoid most of my life, but you want to know my zip code? Here, right on RetailWire, take it: 05055. OMG!

Alan Heyman
Guest
Alan Heyman
10 years 7 days ago
When I read the comments to the new California law, I believe that marketing people are missing the point. It is not a question of what the consumer gets for divulging their personal information; it is becoming more about what risk is the consumer taking by exposing that information. The Federal and State governments are acting very aggressively to insure that all consumers are safe, that is the role of government. The basic question is starting to become, who owns that data, the consumer or the marketer and if the marketer has that data, how are they protecting the consumer? It is the same argument for food safety standards, car safety standards, etc. With the advent of new technologies, crime becomes easier. The basic infrastructure and fabric of our society becomes at risk if the consumer does not feel safe. Marketers will learn to live in this new environment because the laws will force the issue, the same with smoking or safety belts. Companies will learn to live in this new economy and the smarter… Read more »
Justin Gross
Guest
Justin Gross
10 years 7 days ago

I agree that retailers should be restricted from, or at the very least, extremely reduced to collecting personal information from customers. It’s safe to say that an employee asking for a phone number or zip code or email address is more of an annoyance than a reward for the consumer. If the customer wants to give personal information because he or she believes it will result in coupons or points, the customer would be more than willing to voluntarily speak to customer services to provide such information. But how often does this really happen? Rare, I’d say.

In addition to emails, the latest trend that retailers are following is to text message the customer with advertisements of deals or links to their website. There have been a few times this has happened to me. All I concentrated on is how this was an inconvenience to my time, not safety. Yet when a customer is asked for their information, I think they rarely consider the consequence of it falling into the wrong hands.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 7 days ago

Retailers are dealing with an ever increasing population of small time crooks. While existing systems can often catch and prevent fraudulent use on large purchases, small purchases seem to require a second level of security. Like with Redbox, they require you to input your zip code to rent a movie. If you don’t like it, go to Blockbuster (if you can find one). As for buying gas, etc., you are required to input your zip–if you don’t like it pay with cash! No one says you have to use a credit card!

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 7 days ago
Yes, retailers are overreaching when they try to collect unnecessary personal information from their customers. Here in CA my experience is that the worst offenders are Radio Shack and Staples. (Am I the only CA responder in here today? Given the other “expert” comments about CA, there must be several.) As a smart shopper, I’ve got to be prepared to say “no” when asked for ZIP (Zone Improvement Program) information. Checkout clerks are trained to ask that question and it’s even used to evaluate their performance, but you won’t hurt their feelings. They get rejected more times than not, so they’re used to it. To quote Martin Lawrence and many, many others, it’s “nunya.” “Nunya damn bidness.” The weirdest hijacking of personal information I’ve experienced so far in CA is Safeway’s frequent shopper program. They offer two ways to use your membership at checkout: swipe your card or give the checker your phone number verbally within earshot of several people. Many of the idiots I shop with simply blurt out that phone number. When you… Read more »
Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Public information is anything that can be ascertained when you appear in public, with NO reasonable presumption of privacy. If YOU want to remain private, stay out of the public domain. Once you move into the public domain, anything that can be learned about you by looking is fair game to the public. Actually, that includes your zip code, since there is no law to keep someone from following you home and noting your zip code–or even your whole address. This is NOT private information. If you put your name on your mailbox, that becomes public, too.

Attempting to create privacy where none can possibly exist, sounds like a perfect marriage of paranoia and government.

Mark Swenson
Guest
Mark Swenson
10 years 7 days ago

A couple posts suggest retailers capture ZIP codes for geo-socio-demographic analysis of where they’re pulling customers from. This is not why retailers capture ZIPs at POS. Retailers capture your name from your credit card’s magnetic strip and combine that with the ZIP code you provided. All this gets shipped off to a data services provider who, with first and last name plus ZIP can actually identify a large percentage of transactions. They’re not analyzing the ZIP code in isolation. It’s with your NAME.

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