Bringing back consumer trust: It's time to take action together

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By Nina Müller, Ethical Commerce Alliance Director at Empathy.co.
  
Retailers face the pressing problem of data privacy: 73% of consumers are worried when companies collect their online data, it’s only used to help brands, not shoppers.
  
Despite campaigns in place by Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat to sway public opinion, consumers are still concerned. Not enough tangible action has been taken and regulations are more confusing than helpful for online shoppers.


  
If consumers seek practical advice on how to better protect their online identities, they must go out of their way to look for it and invest time to educate themselves. But even then, they are often left with unresolved questions and potentially increased data insecurity.
  
As 33% of consumers feel ecommerce sites aren’t safe enough, it’s evident that most online retailers are struggling to preserve customer loyalty. Retailers are aware of this but are conflicted, as they feel there is still a need to collect and store increasing amounts of information about consumers. Treating customer data as a commodity, tracking their movements and location to send them so-called ‘personalised’ adverts only adds to the erosion of trust in online shopping spaces, creating a vicious circle that is hard to break.

But how can we regain consumers’ trust? 

95% of UK consumers feel it’s important that their data is protected online. Therefore it’s vital that retailers make significant strides towards giving back consumers control of their digital rights. 
  
For this, a consolidated effort to establish an ethical and human-first approach is now needed. GDPR as the legal baseline sets a framework to protect customers. But beyond this obligation, retailers have an ethical responsibility to reflect their moral values and standards. Besides this being ‘the right thing to do’ as this is how we want to be treated as customers online ourselves, there is a competitive advantage in protecting customers’ privacy.
  
By halting the collection of personal data, retailers can liberate themselves from liability. Each data point stored is a potential lawsuit that can do considerable economic damage and ruin retailers’ reputations. This cannot be stressed enough as most of the personal data collected isn't critical  information for customisation. Personalised shopping experiences can be offered nevertheless, in a protective, unobtrusive way. 
  
Context is key. Explicitly showing our customers what, where, why and how we need their data (as required by law), helps educate consumers to make better decisions. The consumer decides how personal their online shopping experiences should be, and brands need to be more transparent about the use of personal data. Giving trust earns trust, and only by engaging in a two-way reciprocal relationship can retailers restore customer loyalty.

Collaboration overcomes challenges

Enriching the legal framework with our ethical values shifts us from bystanders to drivers, enabling us to take action. A better protection of personal data through common, shared values also helps us to voice retailer requirements to thrive in this online ecosystem and in the society we want to live in. 
  
But we can only achieve this together to gain equal access and opportunity to meet business goals, where we are not blocked by a minority of big tech companies who dominate the current market. 
  
As a result, it’s crucial the sector views this as an industry-wide problem — one that can only be solved through industry-wide collaboration and change. It’s also imperative to understand ecommerce’s position in the wider digital ecosystem. This is why bringing together not only industry leaders, but fellow experts on data privacy and policy makers is vital to deliver such change. 
  
We have to come together and build an open space for education, knowledge sharing and discussion. Panel discussions are an essential part of the collaboration process — they foster a safe space for necessary conversations, where experts from all backgrounds can come together to share insights, discuss best practices and raise the existing standards around transparency, accountability and trust. 

New principles for new standards

So in order to rebuild trust, there needs to be a distinct change in approach across the sector with a focus on respect, transparency and accountability. 
  
Essentially, abiding by the current GDPR regulations alone is not a sufficient policy to protect customer data privacy.
  
The speed of technological development outpaces government regulations, so to maintain a fair and working digital world, the industry needs to take action. But, they also need to be held accountable for the software they build and the services they offer. Just because something is technologically possible doesn’t justify its use. This goes way beyond the erosion of consumer trust. Keeping up a healthy, trustworthy environment benefits the society that we live in and ultimately protects our democracies. 
  
Enhancing protection for data online, nurtured by retailers, will have positive ripple effects that extend into other industries. Ultimately, these measures benefit a diverse online ecosystem that fosters growth, innovation and empowers digital sovereignty.

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