Ethics has become a global retail industry buzzword for companies operating in the modern marketplace, a trend driven by the growing number of ‘conscious consumers’ who place added value on the products and services they purchase being sustainably supplied and ethically operated. The foundation of this movement has extended beyond a desire amongst consumers to eradicate exploitation in the supply chain into a broader public unease about companies’ use of consumer data to generate sales.
From as early as 1995, companies were using the burgeoning ‘World Wide Web’ to place advertising banners on websites to target consumers. As people began leaving deeper digital imprints, retail marketers had more means of tracking and targeting consumers in increasingly intrusive ways, often lacking transparency over what data had been captured and how third parties were using it. But the digital advertising landscape is now changing, propelled rapidly forward by the abolition of third-party cookies and tighter privacy regulations. Retail advertisers must now adapt their approach to ethically connect with consumers and avoid alienating those tired of feeling tracked, traced, and monitored across the internet. Learning to rebuild trust will be an essential part of the future of this sector.
With consumers now increasingly savvy about the security of their personal data, businesses must reassess whether the consumer data they’re currently storing and using for targeting is truly essential, or even whether it is possible to target consumers without using third-party data at all. The challenge that retailers are now attempting to solve is how to go about serving consumers with effective relevant online advertising while still toeing the new stricter privacy line.
In fact, in a post-cookie world, it is possible to ethically engage with consumers in real-time with tailored offers and rewards using just first-party data in a fully GDPR-compliant way. Moreover, it can be done while they’re on the move with absolutely no location tracking at all. At Zipabout, we provide public transport users with personalised journey information and tailored incentives for making sustainable travel choices. We do so using, and indeed have built our entire business model on, an ethical framework that gives passengers exactly what they want while still making privacy a priority – not only by anonymising user data but also by taking the extraordinary step as a travel information provider to not use any location tracking. Instead, we use patent-pending technology to reliably and ethically predict where people will be through their interactions with transport information, information which we combine with offers and rewards from our retail partners to deliver contextually relevant advertising. This means no intrusive tracking or sharing of travellers’ location with third parties, including our retail partners themselves, while also creating a walled garden approach to data storage that eliminates the risk of any leaks.
In addition to taking a ‘less is more’ approach to consumer data gathering, it is crucial to provide consumers with tangible benefits in exchange for the data they do choose to share. Firms that misuse consumer data for intrusive advertising campaigns – flashing pop-ups, spam messages, auto-play videos and new webpages forcibly launching – disrupt the user’s online experience and rarely add value. With surveys indicating internet users overwhelmingly prefer relevant content to intrusive spam, it is clear that well-targeted personalised adverts have the potential to generate greater consumer satisfaction and, in turn, high returns for businesses. Serving consumers with information or adverts that are relevant to them and delivered at exactly the right time for them to take advantage of is contextual native advertising taken to the next level.
As an example of what’s possible, Zipabout’s one-to-one messaging service has provided our retail partners, including WHSmith, Pret a Manger and Upper Crust, with an opportunity to engage directly with consumers in real-time by offering personalised, relevant rewards and incentives for travelling passengers, all while they are out and about, passing the stores. Not only does it optimise ROI on ad spend and drive footfall for those retailers but it also incentivises sustainable behaviour change among consumers – a free coffee perhaps for taking the train instead of driving, or a free newspaper and sandwich for taking the next, less busy train. Beyond the retailer and the consumer, wider benefits for the transport operators are obvious.
Debates around data privacy and the ethics behind data collection governance will continue. The reality is however that consumers have never had more control over how, when, and where they engage in the global retail market. Brands that thrive will be those who can demonstrate greater transparency, building trust and confidence through direct relationships with those they wish to target, respecting privacy and consistently delivering value.
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