Balancing the Creep Factor


“Big Data” holds big promise for grocery retailers, but the collection and use of personal information have many consumers concerned. Shoppers are not only asking, “How do they know that about me?” but also “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’s a 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 had revealed the news to her family. While this example is a bit extreme, some product categories shouldn’t fall into the world of personalization.

The creep factor also exists when consumers don’t have control. In a grocery environment, customers can choose not to use their loyalty cards 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. Unsurprisingly, Millennials are more comfortable with the notion of personalization than older generations are. In fact, a 2015 Accenture survey found that almost three times the number of Millennials versus Boomers think being reminded about needed items while shopping is cool.

For those who are less comfortable with technology, there exists a sense of wariness: 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 re-evaluate their goals. Many organizations want to understand how to use personalization to increase revenue, foster loyalty and boost customer satisfaction. Ultimately, however, those elements are byproducts 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 an 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 are 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 that they won’t feel the creep factor — they’ll feel like they had a great customer experience.

Of course, the creep factor is in the eye of the consumer, and what’s creepy to some may be “cool” to others.

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