Privacy Centers: a panacea for customer relations?

According to a Wavestone survey[1], as detailed in the study “protecting privacy in the digital age”, 94% of respondents believe that digital privacy is important and should be protected. This study also demonstrates  that e-commerce sites, and even retailers in general, are among the types of company that consumers . And, without trust, customers are generally reluctant to share their .

So, how can consumers rebuild confidence, especially to a level where they are ready to share their data and preferences?

Several major e-commerce players (ASOS, Adidas, etc.) seem to be making transparency a strong thread in their strategy, in particular by giving customers the ability to manage and control their own data. This usually involves a Privacy Center—a personal space where users can view and manage their personal information, adjust preferences and consents, and easily make use of their rights. But should this solution be adopted by all retail players?

Why are privacy centers often considered as the ideal transparency solution?

Privacy Centers have the advantage of empowering users to be in control of and manage the personal data they entrust to a company. Making users masters of their own data provides a guarantee of trust and transparency on the company’s part.

This part of the ASOS Privacy Center allows users to choose the types of communication they wish to receive. This example illustrates the granularity possible in the personalization of content, all the while remaining within the limits drawn by the GDPR.

A Privacy Center provides users with a single point of interaction on Data Privacy. This single interface enables all of its communication channels (internet, in-store, after-sales service, etc.).

Through clear and tailored communications (written in terms that everybody can understand—not in legal language), Privacy Centers highlight companies’ efforts to protect their users’ personal data  and enable customers to better control their choices.The company can then rebuild a relationship of trust with its customers, which, in turn, encourages them to share both their data and preferences.

What are the obstacles in establishing a Privacy Center?

Installing a Privacy Center within an organization’s existing IS is complex. It requires a perfect interconnection between the customer interfaces (mobile, website, physical, etc.) and the various existing client databases (the view of the customer being rarely completely unified). By “interconnection,” we mean information that a user enters on an interface (for example, the choice of the option,  “I don’t want to receive publicity by email”) is used to systematically inform all relevant systems. In fact, the complexities of each company’s IS mean that such interconnections are rare—as well as time consuming and expensive to deploy from a technical point of view.

However, the communication challenges between different interfaces don’t depend solely on the ISD. There’s still a need for a company’s business functions to help bring these customer databases together. It’s quite common in retail for stores to , or for several brands, with different positions in the market, to coexist within the same group. As a result, interconnecting uses and interfaces is a complex—even unwanted—operation. Setting up a Privacy Center, then, is often born of pursuing a more integrated marketing and digital strategy.

Lastly, Privacy Centers can generate a paradox: despite the intention being to boost trust, a company might not necessarily want customers to take too much advantage of it. For example, we can imagine that marketing and digital teams may not want to make it simpler to exercise consumer rights or withdraw consent, as this could result in the loss of existing accounts and potential prospects. Privacy Centers are therefore a better fit for organizations pursuing a “less but better” approach to customer management because they allow them to get to know (through preferences, contacts types, frequencies, etc.) a smaller number of customers and prospects more closely—i.e. the ones that agree to share their data.

The Privacy Center: future ideal or present-day panacea?

Retail players don’t all pursue the same digital strategies or have the same degree of digital maturity. Some are already mature: developed e-commerce channels, websites, mobile applications, linked physical and telephone channels, , etc. This is the case for pure digital players or market leaders who have (re)built their entire business strategy based on the digital user experience. For them, deploying a Privacy Center doesn’t mean a complete overhaul of the IS, or the lens through which they view customer relations. It can therefore be considered in the short term.

For others, a digital strategy is still to be deployed or even developed. This is especially the case for more traditional retailers, where physical or telephone channels are still at the heart of the sales process. For them, establishing  a Privacy Center today seems rather premature. A clear digital strategy must be defined, and its effective implementation and the associated development of the IS assured, before a customer interface of this type can be envisaged.

In summary, Privacy Centers should be seen as a “final destination” rather than an immediately and uniformly applicable solution. And, they represent a destination designed to improve customer trust by enabling users to control their data and communicate clearly on what can be done with it. But, for such communication to be possible, a cleardata strategy for using the data needs to have been defined. And, for control of the data to be a realistic option,

In conclusion then, it seems that deploying Privacy Centers across all e-commerce sites isn’t an immediate goal for 2019. However, the exemplary nature of the approach, and the strong differentiation it drives in the trust relationship with customers, should Privacy Centers become a “standard” in the retail sector in years to come. And that’s something we all need to prepare for!

Adidas Privacy Center


[1]Our sample: 3,620 individuals (603 in Belgium, 600 in China, 605 in France, 612 in Germany, 600 in the UK, and 600 in the US)

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