Consumer data privacy is a top priority for retailers

Apr 18, 2019
Written by Renée Sunde, President & CEO

Protecting consumer privacy is one of retail’s top priorities. There is no doubt that technology is changing our concept of consumer privacy. Could any of us imagine life today without our smart devices?

Technology is driving the retail experience on which consumers have come to count. Shopping has become as easy as a click or tap on the screen. I still get amazed at how a purchase can be made at 8:00 p.m. and arrive on my doorstep by 10:00 a.m. the next day. Our reliance and comfort with the fast pace of technology advances challenge us all to balance the many benefits with the need for protection of privacy.

A recent article on protecting consumer privacy written by the National Retail Federation outlines the many ways data drives retail and customer experiences:

  • Consumer information – from contact information to buying preferences – allows retailers to offer customers products, services, value and convenience that would be difficult otherwise.
  • Consumers are more sensitive about the personal information they disclose and expect their information to be handled confidentially.
  • Virtually all retail customers are willing to trade some personal information for valuable and convenient benefits.
  • Retailers want to meet the customer where they are, so they go to great lengths to adopt policies and practices that put the customer first and invest billions of dollars each year in technology to collect, analyze – use and protect – customer information.

Government regulators should be aware of unintended consequences that may restrict benefits and services that consumers have come to enjoy and expect. Like retailers, lawmakers and regulators are concerned about the uses and potential abuses of consumer data.

The Washington Retail Association has been engaged throughout the legislative session following bills seeking to protect consumer rights to privacy. Retailers support and prefer a federal approach to addressing privacy issues rather than a state-by-state piecemeal approach that makes it difficult to comply with costly and confusing laws that ultimately impact the consumer negatively.

Noticeably absent from current proposals is the recognition that data processors have as much if not more responsibility for protecting consumers’ data, as data controllers.

Additionally, some misguided bills allow trial attorneys to file lawsuits against law-abiding retailers for unintended oversights that could easily be rectified outside of litigation. The enforcement of any privacy regulation should be held solely with the State Attorney General or the United States Department of Justice.

We are very concerned about the rush to enact legislation that took years for the European Union to adopt. We should step back and take a look in the interim to allow all affected parties to come together and construct a workable solution that has the consumer at the center of the consideration.