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Balancing the "Creep Factor" in eCommerce Personalization

How to deliver personalization without getting too close for comfort.

“Big data” holds big promise for grocery retailers, but the collection and use of personal information has many consumers concerned. Shoppers are not only asking, “how do they know that about me?” but “why do they want to know that?” This is where the “creep factor” sets in: the feeling that business is getting a little too personal.

While uneasiness can arise from common tactics such as ad retargeting, the creep factor can emerge from a number of practices. One is crossing the privacy line with targeted offers. There is well-known story about Target knowing a teenage girl was pregnant before her father found out. The retailer reportedly sent the teen coupons for baby-related items before she revealed her news. While this example is a bit extreme, some product categories should not fall into the world of personalization.

The creep factor also exists when consumers don’t have control. In a grocery environment, a customer can choose not to use their loyalty card at the cash register, thus becoming more anonymous. However, some programs and technologies make it virtually impossible for consumers to opt out or set their preferences, so they have little to no control.

Another aspect of the creep factor is not giving customers a tangible benefit in providing their information. Certainly, people understand that when they’re looking for a restaurant on Yelp, the app will ask for their location. But consumers will have a harder time figuring out why a recipe app needs to know a user’s location. Whatever the benefit is, it should be made clear to consumers from the outset.

Of course, the creep factor is in the eye of the consumer, and what’s creepy to some may be “cool” to others - for example, millennials are more comfortable with the notion of personalization than older generations. In fact, a 2015 Accenture survey found that almost three times the number of millennials (17%) versus boomers (6%) prefer reminders to grab needed items while shopping.

For those who are less comfortable with technology, there exists a sense of weariness: what if something happens? Will my identity be compromised?

For grocery retailers, the question becomes: how can the business benefit from personalization without sacrificing customer trust? Before getting started, companies may need to reevaluate their goals. Many organizations want to understand how to use personalization to increase revenue, foster loyalty and boost customer satisfaction. Ultimately, those elements are a byproduct of a properly established program.

The first, most important stepping stone is to put the consumer at the center of the experience. Retailers can do so by:

  • Asking customers what they want to get out of the experience across various channels
  • Explaining the benefits of personalization and creating a value exchange
  • Giving customers control and allowing them to set preferences
  • Having a clear privacy statement and easy opt-out

By and large, people today are comfortable with sharing a tremendous amount of data, whether it’s on social media or with various brands. A recent Aimia study found that although consumers are worried about how their personal data is being handled by companies, they’re willing to share if they get rewarded. For grocery retailers, it’s critical to be transparent and communicate with customers at every step.

Ultimately, the idea is to guide customers through a journey as opposed to coming on strong and invading their personal space. The result is they won’t feel the creep factor; they’ll feel like they had a great customer experience.

This article was also featured in the The Progressive Grocer.

Sylvain Perrier
Sylvain Perrier is President & Chief Executive Officer at Mercatus. He has more than fifteen years’ executive-level experience in retail technology, and has dedicated his career to driving the success of grocery retailers with pragmatic, easy-to-use technology.