Privacy is important - but so is good marketing

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This week's Gloves Off debate about the future of Internet commerce and communication suggests that consumers have gotten to the point of asking for exactly what they want, not only from a product standpoint but also from a promotion standpoint. With the rise of targeting and analytic technology, the onus is now on the marketer to catch up and to listen. To that end, I'm excited about what the National Retail Federation show might have in store next week.

But it's the quest for improving customer interactivity through technology that can trip marketers up, sometimes in quite a spectacular fashion. Sears is under fire for making its customers' shopping habits searchable by others through its site (and for using ComScore tracking software without, it's been said, doing a good enough job of telling people about it). It's not hard to imagine the excited internal meetings at Sears that led to the product search capability on its home improvement Web site; after all, retailers are working hard to drive a community-type feel to their online environments, make information easily available to customers and continue the post-purchase relationship. But why did it take a lawsuit to move Sears to try finding ways of turning off the publicly searchable nature of this information?

Stories like these naturally lead to table-thumping industry diktats to be mindful of privacy, and self-regulate lest we be regulated unto. Sears' woes certainly speak to the current debate surrounding possible do-not-track legislation. But let's not lose sight of this: maybe we just need to remind marketers not to do daft things; not to introduce products and functionalities that go that step too far beyond enhancing the customer experience, into the territory of not only compromising their privacy but also, just as damaging, turning them off.


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