Buy a book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and you can bet that the next time you log on, they’ll have suggestions for other titles you might like, too. Other retailers apply the same kinds of tools, remembering the size or color of your favorite sweater, or maybe where your favorite vacation destination lies.
All in all, these kinds of order history and pattern recognition tools are among the advantages that have made the world’s biggest e-commerce sites popular with buyers. It’s a win-win for everybody: convenience for the customer, and bigger profits for the retailer or service provider.
But as we’re beginning to see, there are fine lines that have to be walked… and crossing them could be damaging to your online marketing strategy.
Recently, several consumer and governmental agencies have pushed back against Apple and Google for what they considered to be violations of privacy and record-keeping standards. The local retailing social media site foursquare has similarly noticed declines in growth stemming from a reluctance by users to tell the world where they live and shop. Each of these situations puts a fine point on the fact that customers want businesses to know and remember them, but only to a certain point. Beyond that, they start to feel a little bit uncomfortable.
You might think this isn’t much of an issue for your company, that you don’t have the kinds of comprehensive web tracking statistics that would bother buyers. But how sure are you? Do you maintain a mailing list that you share with other businesses, or frequently send out e-mail messages that suggest or imply that you have more personal information about buyers then you should?
That’s a particularly relevant question in this day and age, when a lot of small businesses are cross-promoting products and services, not to mention posting profiles of their best customers on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. What seems appreciative to you can be downright creepy to someone else, which makes erring on the side of caution all the more important.
Your buyers are happy to share information with you if they think you’ll use it responsibly and do a better job of serving them in the future. But if they get a sense that you’ve gone too far collecting or keeping personal information, then it’s only a matter of time before you’ll start to see a backlash.