Retailers & Manufacturers Beware Customer Exposure Fatigue…and the Lures of the Data Mafia

How would you really react if on entering an unfamiliar store while on vacation, you were simultaneously accosted with coupons for the sunscreen, jet lag remedy, and black truffle paste you researched online yesterday after lunch booked by Open Table at an obscure café half a continent away, while models in a visual display of your tomorrow’s beach destination, clipped just this morning to Evernote, directed you to your own gender’s department for a bathing suit, made by the same designer as last year’s summer’s purchase, and then across the floor for a belt embedded with an RFID chip that the belt’s designer’s display will recognize on contact next spring? With facial recognition cameras, locational databasing, online browsing collation, checking in, checking out, research note collection pending sharing out online, your customers face much more than Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes” of fame: collated, cross-referenced, shared, and archived personally identifying information could make users pseudo-celebrities for life.

People complain about the NSA. Do they really want you as retailer or manufacturer to know–or to presume to know–all about them? Do your customers really want you, your app developers, your app developers’ other clients, and your app developers’ other partners knowing where your customers have been and plan to go and what your customers think, buy, read, write, and plan, all archived over time? Even if your customers adopt and adapt, will they want constant reminders of what you know, what you may know, and how much more you might know?  At what point will even the early adopters and database-sharing inured burn out and tune you out, turn you off, and avoid your space?

How significant is all that data databased, analyzed, shared, and archived?  People change, thoughts change; passing thoughts and impulse browsing make datapoints look as though those datapoints pertain to your customer when they actually reflect the concerns of your customer’s family, friends, co-workers, communities, odd news items, strange ads, and celebrities and other strangers.  Is video-archiving the unique floor paths of your different locations worth alienating customers already on camera in changing rooms and at check-outs?Do you get that much meaningful data to subject customers, employees, and vendors to facial recognition imaging integrated with the web browsing and locational history you can find on their smart phones and online browsing histories?

Even internally, who should know who is doing what and meeting with whom, why, about what, and when, and where?  What of your trade secrets do your developers’ apps and your personnel’s apps on their own devices capture and archive as Google, FaceBook, LinkedIn, EverNote, FourSquare, Turn, OpenTable, Instagram, TripIt, SalesForce Chatter and Yammer?  40,000 developers have combined Foursquare alone into their apps, including Evernote and Instagram, even as Foursquare has gone global. How much data seeps through the company?   Once the data is out there, it’s impossible to claw it back. How much information leaks out externally– where it can be read and scraped and databased and recombined when, with what, for context? Where do your trade secrets go?

Wouldn’t the legendary personal touch of a Nordstrom clerk do more to please your customers  and shorten your checkout lines to the ‘point of sale’?

© 2013. S. Caroline Schroder. All rights reserved.