Wal-Mart, Eyeing Mobile And Online, To Revamp Its Privacy Policy

Written by Evan Schuman
July 23rd, 2009

One month from now, Wal-Mart will unveil a radically changed privacy policy, one that envisions a merged channel world, where consumers are as likely to use their phone and laptop to interact with Wal-Mart as much as they would walk into a store or speak with a call center. The policy talks about data not merely from a PCI and a purchase history perspective, but also from a security camera’s and cellphone’s perspective.

“Our goal is to have it be completely comprehensive, for both online and offline,” said Zoe Strickland, the Wal-Mart VP who serves as the chain’s Chief Privacy Officer. “We need to govern all the different ways that we collect and use information. Privacy is not just about using the Web site. It’s everything that happens when you’re interacting with the company.”

Some have recently argued that retailers need to show consumers what is in their CRM files, if those merchants truly want to gain the consumer’s trust. Although Wal-Mart is far from offering to do that, the new policy—to take effect Aug. 23—does offer a way for consumers to request to examine the information Wal-Mart has about them, but the policy puts very little pressure on the chain itself to deliver.

“Contact us at the E-mail or postal address listed in the ‘Contact Us’ section of this policy,” said the new document. “Please include your current contact information, the information you are interested in accessing, and your requested changes. We will provide you the information requested if reasonably available, or will describe the types of information we typically collect.”

Although it’s not much, it does go a little farther than most other retailers have gone. Still, it will be interesting to see what information Wal-Mart will end choosing to part with.

Much of the new policy deals with restrictions on use of personally-identifiable data, with few stated limits on data collected that is not associated with a consumer’s name, above and beyond limits that are forced on Wal-Mart, such as privacy laws involving prescription drugs and handling of payment card data.

The policy also clarifies that data will only be given to Wal-Mart’s partners and suppliers when there’s a need to know, but it doesn’t address the reverse situation, where Wal-Mart’s partners have the information first and then provide Wal-Mart with only parts of that information. Can a supplier or a partner be made to comply to Wal-Mart’s rules, when those suppliers also work for many other national retailers?

“Whether we get the data first or they get the data first, they’re going to have to abide by our security concerns,” Strickland said. The supplier data issue is only to get worse in the coming year as mobile companies work more closely with all of the major retail chains.

Strickland—who is Wal-Mart’s first Chief Privacy Officer—said she is also closely watching “the tension between the personalization goal—which is just a goal” and Wal-Mart’s efforts to protect consumer privacy at various levels. The eternal question: As consumers opt-in so they can take advantage of personalization and convenience, will they ever be able to regain control of that data?


One Comment | Read Wal-Mart, Eyeing Mobile And Online, To Revamp Its Privacy Policy

  1. Mike O'Sullivan Says:

    This is a good example of taking the right steps towards integrating your customer intelligence so that analytical insight is actionable for relevant customer-facing operational communications— via phone, e-mail, online, mobile, and POS. While Wal-Mart is one of the first major retailers to tackle the privacy issue head on, the other side of the story is how a company can provide more personal, customized retail experience that customers have come to expect. Smart retailers like Wal-Mart recognize the need to integrate and cross-analyze data from many sources.
    Web intelligence packages enable companies to integrate and make sense of the interplay of offline (in-store, call center, etc.) and online data to track and determine what content that customers wish to see, so that customers get relevant messages wherever they interact.
    With this technology, catalog retailer JD Williams in the UK, for example, understands in detail whether a customer has truly abandoned a shopping basket on-line, and can identify if the item was later purchased from another channel, such as the call center. Based on detailed web data, they know which customers to target in campaigns, what products are most relevant to their personal interests, and a solid reason for making contact. Or JDW can identify when customers select an item to add to their shopping cart but the item is out of stock – and see what the customer decides to do next: 1)ask the business to notify the customer when the item will be available in the next 14 days, 2) abandon the item and log out 3) or choose an alternative item.
    They can then target the customer again when the item is back in stock – as appropriate. This also helps the market forecasting team determine the correct levels of stock required, based upon true customer demand.


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