IBM Retail What  information consumers will share.jpg

Guess what? New research from IBM shows customers are willing to share their personal information, especially if they get something in return.

Excuse us while we yawn ... But doesn't it seem like anyone who ever signed up for something as innocuous as a store loyalty card could explain the same thing? How many people registered for a website during the heady dot-com days, just to get a free water bottle?

And don't even get us started on the phenomenon of too much information on social media, where everyone shares just about everything, for nothing but 15 seconds of fame in return.

So let's overlook the obvious, and see if there are any deeper insights in the research IBM released this week at the National Retail Federation's 103rd Annual Convention and EXPO in New York City.

The Price of Personalization

Say what you want about the unauthorized snooping by the US National Security Agency, Facebook's creepy practice of combing through your unpublished posts and comments, the way companies like Apple tracked the location of its customers without their consent.

Remind someone how Google and Microsoft machine scan email to harvest information for personalized advertising — or the fact that Gmail users have no right to expect privacy. Or explain how retailers use super spy cams and other technologies to analyze store traffic, set staffing levels, reduce check-out line backups, monitor inventory and "improve the overall customer experience."

Most people don't seem to care.

Oh, sure, there are select minorities: vociferous privacy advocates, technophobes — Utopian dreamers. But then there is everyone else. And most people seem willing to tell you just about anything, even before you ask, with little regard for privacy.

As big data has ballooned, so have the options to create more targeted and almost intimately targeted messages, in the online world and beyond. Companies claim customers not only prefer personalized marketing: they expect it.

IBM — which, we might add, sells marketing software "to help you deliver a personalized conversation across all channels and gain deep insight into each customer's interests and interactions" — is just the latest company to confirm the obvious. According to the research previewed at the NRF show this week, many consumers are prepared to compromise some of their privacy in exchange for a better customer experience.

Checking the Numbers

IBM has already published an executive summary and plans to release the full report in March, which is based on a survey of more than 30,000 global consumers. 

According to the report, the number of people who are willing to share their GPS coordinates with retailers has doubled over the past year to 36 percent. Another 38 percent of consumers are prepared to provide mobile numbers to receive text messages, and another 32 percent are prepared to share their social media handles.

IBM, as might be expected, is using the findings to promote its big data and analytics business. Jill Puleri of IBM Retail said today’s consumer has been "conditioned by multiple industries — from healthcare to travel — to expect personalized interactions across different channels."

And while she stressed the study shows consumers are willing to share details about themselves, particularly if they receive a personalized experience in return, she added:

It’s imperative that retailers enact a big data and analytics strategy that ensures they use consumer information wisely, gaining their customers’ trust and loyalty by providing value in exchange.”