Once upon a time, people had something called privacy. It meant that you kept certain information to yourself, only sharing it with your nearest and dearest. If back then you had suggested that an American, European or Chinese business would own the very personal information of billions of citizens all over the world, well, nobody would have believed it for a minute. Centuries and decades later, we simply accept the crumbling of our privacy as a given. Technology needs data, needs our information, so we just answer all the questions put to us by companies, by retailers and brands, and more. No, seriously, surely everyone still knows what privacy is. The thing is, have we lost it somewhere down the road. Or have we simply redefined what privacy is? And what does this mean for retail?

Is 2018 the year we regain our privacy?

The smart economy has some serious repercussions on our privacy. Tech giants such as Amazon, Alibaba, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are able to delve deeper and deeper into our private lives, using data we provide willingly. “Private” then takes on a new meaning. Apparently, we are happy to exchange less privacy for better and more personalised experiences, goods and services. However, recent events such as the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal and the Chinese government attempting to monitor how trustworthy its citizens are, have proven to be a wakeup call of sorts. Many people have admitted they find the unrestrained craving for data by the tech companies abhorrent. They believe privacy to be a universal right, which cannot be infringed upon lightly.

The difficulty is that while citizens may value their privacy, they also expect to be protected from terrorism and live free of computer hacks. Onlife consumers are keen to have a smooth shopping experience, without having to enter their preferences every single time. Most people are fine with surrendering some privacy in exchange, believing they have nothing to hide, anyway. Ultimately, we are perfectly willing to share pretty much everything on social media. We give others access — sometimes without even realizing it — to our personal profiles, and we accept the ever-changing new terms and conditions of the big tech companies without bothering to read them.

Now, EU privacy guidelines have had a major overhaul. As of today, 25 May of this year, people have the right to view their data, have incorrect information corrected, ask for the processing of data to cease and even have the right of being forgotten altogether. A huge step forward for onlife consumers, who will regain some control over their personal data. This legislation has profound effects on American and Chinese businesses active in Europe, requiring them to ask for explicit consent to use data for advertising purposes, among other regulations. 

Privacy – a retail USP?!

Regardless of the worries swirling around privacy, we are faced with a data explosion, which will allow patterns and trends to be deduced for a whole range of business sectors, retail being one of the most important. Looking forward, privacy is going to remain something of a balancing act for everyone in the retail value chain. Consumers want to shop online without forever needing to fill out their details. They love downloading apps that are immediately relevant to them personally.

Big data and privacy are controversial topics with a call to action for retailers, too. Offering privacy to consumers could be a new unique selling point for a business. A webstore or brand that is able to guarantee an extraordinary level of privacy can set itself apart from competitors. After all, the mountain of generic data already accrued still leaves ample room to make relevant suggestions and offers to anonymous customers in a legitimate yet equally effective way. That way everyone can have the best of both worlds: consumers decide which data to share with which businesses and when, retailers are able to use the information to improve the customer journey. That’s what I call ‘having your cake and eating it, too’. A slice of privacy, anyone?


This blog is partly adapted from my book The End Of Online Shopping – The Future Of Retail In An Always Connected World. Watch this space for weekly blogs from this book.