NRF Confronts Consumer Data Privacy

Concurrent with its Big Show annual convention in New York, the National Retail Federation has launched a new Center for Consumer Privacy and Innovation.

Privacy in the online space was a topic at the NRF’s annual convention. In the seminar “How Retailers Can Develop A Winning Strategy To Attract Digital Advertising Dollars,” participants discussed possibilities around regulation, and they concurred that some kind of governmental oversight of consumer data is inevitable.

The panelists agreed that getting ahead of the problem as well as rewarding consumers in return for using their personal data is a first step. Panel host Joel Percy, global head of business consulting at ciValue, cited a letter to consumers generated by Loblaw, the Canadian supermarket operator, as it launched a new initiative regarding data and communication, that was its way of getting a jump on any issues that might arise from the effort. The letter explained that the company’s selling information to advertisers using its digital platform should result in smarter, more relevant offers and messaging from Loblaw’s partners. It also informed consumers that Loblaw would reward them with redeemable points for participating in the program while at the same time offering a link allowing them to opt out of the program.

Panelist Angela Venus, head of retail measurements North America at Facebook, said transparency and control are critical. Beyond that, as regulation emerges in a fragmentary manner, particularly for international companies, determinations on how to address rule making, whether conforming to the most rigorous standards or using technology to amend virtual operations as required to meet local conditions, is going to become a more important consideration for businesses operating online.

Venus told HomeWorld Business that, as part of their digital outreach, companies should provide education and information about the use of information not just for regulators but also for consumers, and at the heart of that effort address concerns, help build trust and give the audience confidence that people are getting something back from the use of their data.

“It’s going to be some time for consumers to understand what’s going on,” she said.

NRF is stepping in at a critical moment. Consumer data increasingly drives a retail industry that is harnessing new technologies and personalizing solutions to deliver better experiences. As local and federal government in the U.S. considers regulating how companies protect personal information and provide consumers with control over data, NRF stated, the center will produce research, track privacy legislation and educate the public and policymakers about the benefits, convenience and value they derive from the technology retailers develop. The intent is to ensure that government regulation doesn’t cramp innovation in the retail economy.

“Retailers endeavor each day to earn and maintain a customer’s trust and loyalty,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “There is always another competitor across the street or across the globe eager to provide better products and services at the best possible prices. Unfortunately, public policy aimed at protecting consumer privacy could result in unintended consequences that harm continued innovation designed to benefit the consumer.”