Over two-thirds of consumers are now shopping in-store to avoid tracking practices of online retailers. Angel Maldonado, CEO at Empathy.co, explains why retailers have failed to move away from unethical data practices, and how they can redeem their relationships with their consumers.
As the cost of living crisis looms and a cookieless future is on the horizon, the concept of ‘digital trust’ has never held greater value.
However, retail brands are failing to prepare and adapt for the present and future challenges they face. The continued use of models that hold and protect consumer data in an unethical way is damaging customer relationships and creating a sense of mistrust. As consumers become increasingly conscious of their online privacy it’s vital that retailers implement ethical data practices and cultivate digital trust between themselves and their customers.
What is digital trust?
Digital trust is a business’ commitment to and the confidence consumers have in them to protect consumer data, enact effective cybersecurity, offer trustworthy AI-powered products and services, and provide transparency around AI and data usage.
How all businesses operate, behave and act online is being put under increased scrutiny. Consumers want to be aware of and understand companies' data practices and policies before commiting to a purchase and for brands to align with their own ethics and morals.
There is clear value that consumers place on digital trust. 85% of consumers surveyed by Mckinsey stated that knowing a company's privacy policies was important before making a purchase. Additionally, McKinsey calculated that businesses that prioritise digital trust are 1.6 times more likely to boost revenue and EBIT growth rates by 10% or more. However, it’s clear that far too many retail brands are failing to cultivate digital trust amongst their consumers that they so vitally need.
Where are retail brands failing?
A surveillance model has long persisted amongst online retailers and businesses. Customer data has been treated as a commodity that has been extracted from all possible avenues and used to target consumers with advertising and personalised experiences. The prevailing argument has been that this is an equitable transaction between business and consumers.
The Retail Trust Index from Empathy.co, highlighted not only the extent to which online retailers are monitoring consumers' online behaviour through cookies and online trackers but the impact this has on consumer trust. The pervasive use and reliance on cookies amongst the sector was clear to see. On average, a consumer will have 10 separate trackers monitoring their online behaviour when visiting the site of a top UK retail brand.
Whilst some verticals may fare better than others, the effect on consumer trust and behaviour is undeniable. Over two-thirds of consumers are now shopping in-store to avoid tracking practices of online retailers and over 50% don’t think retailers are doing enough to protect their online data. Also of huge concern is that 20% of consumers said that they didn’t trust any of the top 50 UK retailers highlighting the dramatic impact such practices are having on retailers' relationships with consumers.
Is another way possible, and are businesses willing to change?
Online retailers have felt trapped by the surveillance economy they inhabit, and the notion that there is a trade off between privacy and personalisation and improved customer experiences has meant that there has been a failure to move away from unethical data practices. However, there is a groundswell of change occurring currently, not only from consumers but big tech players also.
Google is discontinuing third party cookies, despite several delays in implementation, and Apple has made significant strides to advocate and publicise their new data privacy policies. However, it will not be enough for retailers to ride the crest of this wave to restore digital trust. Firstly, despite a cookieless future not being far away, much of the e-commerce sector is still heavily reliant on their use, highlighting a lack of willingness from the industry to establish more transparent and ethical practices.
But, whilst the moves from Google and Apple should be welcomed, they’re not a silver bullet to this issue. There has to be a significant shift in approach and mindset from online retailers. Customer experiences must be built and designed with a privacy-first approach where practices are communicated clearly and in a transparent manner to consumers and power is put back in their hands. It is only then that retailers can escape the surveillance economy and trust can be built and restored.
To rebuild trust immediately, retailers can use AI-powered search navigational tools to understand consumer behaviour and patterns on site without harvesting personal information and embracing zero-party data.
Adopting an ethical approach shouldn’t solely be seen through the lens of risk mitigation either; fostering a transparent and equal relationship can create long term loyal customers. As consumers become more discerning over both their online privacy and expenditure, building digital trust should be seen as business critical for all retail brands.
Now is the time for online retailers to act. They simply can no longer afford to keep breaking consumer trust. Retail brands must take responsibility for the way they act in the digital world and move away from the intrusive data practices that are inherent in the current surveillance model to rewrite the terms of engagement. Embracing this change is key to cultivating digital trust amongst consumers and preventing irrevocable damage to the customer relationship.