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Home Depot Privacy Pratfall: Spotting Web Shoppers In-Store

January 16th, 2013

Regardless of exactly how this is being done, the question is: Will this end up helping or hurting the chain? On the plus side for Home Depot, the do-it-yourself chain (or, for me, the send-contractors-to-this-place-when-you-are-too-incompetent-to-do-it-yourself chain) is one whose merchandise raises the fewest privacy fears.

On that scale, Walgreens (and other pharmacies) would at the top, right above grocery chains (including Walmart, Target and Costco). Near the bottom with Home Depot would be perhaps gas stations and dry cleaners. Neither Home Depot nor Exxon stations has a lot of embarrassing products.

Still, shopper privacy fears have never been especially logical or consistent. Home Depot’s choosing to use this tactic in such a way to force consumers to realize what is going on is the issue. If you’re going to push the privacy envelope, a little discretion is nice.

Two privacy issues are involved here. First, there’s the HomeDepot.com guest account. Small-print opt-ins notwithstanding, most shoppers use the guest account because they think it will keep their transactions from being tracked. The benefit of signing in is the convenience of not having to type in the shipping address and the payment-card data and to be able to review earlier purchases. Shoppers who opt for guest checkout are giving all that up in exchange for what they believe will be an untracked online shopping effort.

Clearly, every online transaction is captured and tracked. And a transaction that ends with the shopper typing in full name, home address, possibly phone number and certainly payment data, well, it’s hard to think of that as being anonymous in any way. To then take that payment data and use it to match—and then contact—that customer when he or she shows up in-store, now that is going to set off privacy alarm bells. The fact that shoppers might have left checked a box that includes opt-in wording doesn’t change their perception that they are being tracked, and it feels eerie. (Eerie is nicer than creepy, but both could apply.)


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5 Comments | Read Home Depot Privacy Pratfall: Spotting Web Shoppers In-Store

  1. Steve Sommers Says:

    One slight clarification:- Multi-use tokens and what I would call repeatable tokens are two different aspects. Multi-use token simply means that a token can be used multiple times for multiple transactions, like card-on-file or express check-out. Multi-use tokes, provided they are not mathematically derived from PAN are very secure. On the other hand, repeatable token or a token mathematically derived from the PAN (hash or encryption for example), are not nearly as secure as their non-mathematically derived counterpart and if improperly implemented, can actually be fairly insecure. Multi-use and repeatable represent different aspects of tokenization.

  2. Aaron Smith Says:

    If companies want to offer customized marketing while navigating around a backlash they need to understand where the lines is drawn for the consumer. There is a clear difference between learning about your customer and stalking them.
    The fact that they are linking data gathered at both their online store and real-world locations is also no surprise. They already run their brick and mortar locations like they were an e-commerce site. Try checking out at Home Depot and you will likely find that there are somewhere between 1 and zero humans to scan your purchases. Retailers: Make this rule # 1: If you want my money, be willing to put out a human hand to take it. Rule # 2: spend less time trying to understand what I MIGHT want to buy and more time helping me find what I DO want to buy. If I walk into Home Depot, I probably already know what I came for. If I need your help, I’ll ask. Yet if you’ve ever tried to find a sales person at one of their stores, you already know that it is an exercise in frustration. There will be somewhere between 1 and zero humans there to help you and good luck finding them.

  3. Lance Christenson Says:

    People who opt in sometimes aren’t aware of it. Not everyone reads and scans everything in front of them. Sad, but that’s how many businesses operate.

  4. Richard S Says:

    My own experience is that people are much less concerned about this type of privacy concern than they once were. More likely people expect that a store can find their old purchases, and like the extra catering to their desires and needs. Shoppers like it when they can come into the store and want a new line feeder for their weed whacker. And if they don’t remember which one they need, the associate can look it up. Shoppers seems to expect that level of service. Perhaps THD should examine the use of guest shopping accounts for the same purpose though.

  5. Rob S Says:

    Apple does this as well. I bought an iPad at an Apple Store over the holidays using the payment card that I have on file with them and by the time I got home I had an email thanking me for my purchase and describing how to attach it to my existing Apple ID. I did not provide my email address or name or anything. Just the card. No idea if this is covered in the iTunes TOS or not.

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