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Customers want something in return before giving retailers personal info

Marilyn Schulman, co-owner of Willy Nilly Trading in

Marilyn Schulman, co-owner of Willy Nilly Trading in Bay Shore, encourages shoppers to leave their name and email address on a form by the register. As an incentive for signing up, customers receive coupons for the month of their anniversary and birthday. Credit: Heather Walsh

The holidays may be the busiest time of year for retailers, but it’s also the best time for them to try to find out more about their customers by capturing key information.

Personal data can be invaluable in targeting marketing efforts, but consumers are more wary of sharing their information in light of continued data breaches. Increasingly, they want something in return: 61 percent of shoppers say they want promotions, discounts or other offers in exchange for personal information, according to a recent survey by Deloitte & Touche.

“Retailers are incentivizing consumers to share data by offering coupons and promotions,” says Matt Marsh, a retail industry leader at Deloitte & Touche LLP, based in their Minneapolis office.

To be sure, the overall market is much more aware of privacy concerns, but in general customers will share basic information and some even more than that, he says.

“There’s a generational view on privacy that exists,” says Marsh.

Specifically, older consumers may be more hesitant in what they share, while the younger generation may be less so since they’re accustomed to sharing information more freely on social media, for example, he says.  

Data that consumers are most willing to share are gender (56 percent); first and last name (53 percent); race (44 percent); and previous purchases (41 percent), according to the survey.

Marilyn Schulman, co-owner of Willy Nilly Trading Co., a gift and home decor boutique in Bay Shore, says she’s most interested in consumers' email addresses so she can target-market and reach them with relevant offers.

The store has a form at the register for shoppers to fill out their name and email address, she says. If they sign up, they can get coupons during their birthday and anniversary months.

She said an offer is key in getting sign-ups.

“Without an offer the results aren’t stellar,” says Schulman, noting the store also uses contests to incentivize customers.

A recent one offered the chance to win a $100 gift card, and anyone entering automatically received an emailed $15 coupon to use with a $75 purchase.

 It’s also good to think outside the box. The incentive you offer doesn’t necessarily have to be a discount to motivate shoppers to give you information, says Jeff Tanner, dean and professor of marketing at the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

“You want to make offers that are relevant to them,” he says, noting he had a furniture store client that incentivized shoppers to sign up for its email list by touting events they might be interested in like a mother/daughter princess tea.

Retailers often just go straight to discounting thinking incentive means discounts, Tanner says, but “incentive is really the value of the offer as perceived by the consumer.”

Buddy DeMarco, owner of Saltwater Long Island, which sells Long Island-branded clothing and hats online and at a kiosk at Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, says he incentivizes customers to sign up for his email list by offering them 10 percent off their next online purchase.

He started doing that in August in preparation for the holiday season and has collected over 350 email addresses already.

He has a form at the register where he asks for name, email address and phone number.

“I would say 90 percent of the time customers fill it out,” says DeMarco, who started at Walt Whitman in November 2017, but wanted to wait until he developed his brand and website before collecting customer information.

“I feel more comfortable now asking for information,” he says.

Test what works and what doesn’t, but don’t miss the opportunity to get to know your customers better. They may not give you all the information at once, but over time you can collect various pieces of information in a process Tanner calls “progressive profiling.”

Just make sure you have a means to collect and store the data.

It helps to have some sort of "customer relationship management" tool, says Nicole Larrauri, president of the EGC Group, a marketing and digital services firm in Melville and Manhattan.

To make customers more comfortable about providing their information, you should offer them some level of transparency about how you’re using the data; whether you’re sharing it and their ability to change or remove it, she says.

The most important data points to collect are basics like name, address and email address at the very least, but what retailers don’t ask often enough, she says, are questions like product preferences, the reason for that day's visit to the store, and what future promotions they would like to receive.

These are questions the consumer can answer over time, she says.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” says Larrauri.

Fast Fact:


Percentage of consumers who say they've been the victim of a data breach

Source: 2018 Deloitte & Touche Holiday Survey

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