Collect with Caution: IoT and the Personalization of Everything

By Amberly Dressler, Managing Editor

Internet retailers have just scratched the surface of what's possible when it comes to collecting data and acting directly on shoppers' behaviors, motivations, attributes and connections to provide 1:1 experiences.

For some perspective, in 2015, around 1.43 billion smartphones were shipped to consumers (source: Statista), which give anywhere, anytime Internet access to billions of people and, for retailers, the ability to collect more information to move more consumers toward more purchases than ever before. If that weren't enough, everyday items are becoming connected too (e.g., thermostats, baby monitors, water bottles, etc.) giving way to more data collection and more opportunities to personalize interactions. The popularity of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, for example, is exploding.

Reports indicate that the smart-home industry generated $79.4 billion in 2014 (Harbor Research and Postscapes) and that global spending on IoT devices and services will hit $1.7 trillion in 2020. What's more, Telefonica predicts 90 percent of cars will be "online" in just four years.

Retailers will need access to the information IoT is providing; they'll need to secure that additional data; and then they'll need to figure out how to make the best use of it for both themselves and their consumers.

Data for All

Similar to traditional retailers, IoT providers are able to gather data from outbound messages (e.g., email, push notifications) as well as in-app events (e.g., clicks and sessions). All of this customer information is on top of what is collected from more traditional touchpoints such as websites, search and social.

The data ramifications of an always-connected consumer are immense and leveraging the right solutions will allow retailers to act on it. Treasure Trove, for instance, offers a suite of SDKs (software development kits) making it easy to integrate event data from different platforms while also providing the ability to load historical data in bulk from any source.

What Treasure Trove provides companies is the ability to collect data from different data sources (mobile, IoT devices, Web and Saas), and store, analyze and act on it, such as by personalized experiences based on the information. Treasure Trove currently integrates with solutions like Google Analytics, App Annie, Tableau, Hubspot, Salesforce, Zendesk and Optimizely - tearing down data silos and building a "single source of truth."

What does that look like in the real world? Let's take Amazon's Dash Button as an example. By putting the Dash Button on household items like laundry detergent, favorite beverages, grocery items, pet food, etc., consumers can re-order these items through Amazon with a click of a button. Amazon Web Services even offers its technology to developers to build white-labeled IoT buttons for Dash, which can be used to start a car, call a cab, order pizza, leave feedback at a hotel; the possibility is limited only by the developer's imagination, coding abilities and brand focus. Just think about the data that can be collected: usage, satisfaction, loyalty and churn to name a few.

Absolutdata CEO Anil Kaul suggested that since Amazon Dash is very brand specific (at least when used in its original form), manufacturers and e-tailers will receive very valuable data about what "types" (gender, location, etc.) of people tend to be loyal to their brand. This info can then be used to perform accurate sales forecasting and lookalike targeting, where a brand knows the ideal buyer type and can target advertising toward similar audiences.

It's only a matter of time before Web content management and ecommerce systems stake a bigger claim in IoT to help their enterprise users more easily leverage this data to customize messaging and experiences. Many today, however, are already doing their part to bring data - regardless of the platform in which it resides - to retailers in order to help them understand and act on browsing history, social connections, referrals, customer service experiences, location information, cross-channel interactions, sales readiness, intent and other attributes (even facial recognition) to customize messaging and experiences to them; for instance like through retargeting that ends after a person buys that item on a competitor's site.

Up for the Taking

There's an infinite amount of data to collect, interpret, leverage and, more importantly, protect across touchpoints and across devices. Just as retailers seek customer information for their advantage, so do those with malicious intent. Of what value is personal data to hackers?

Wearable Technologies recently cited that consumers' personal data will be valued at more than $1 trillion by 2020. When credit card information and customer profiles are stolen, brands take a hit to both revenue and reputation, but there's more to be lost in this hyper-connected age. IoT hacks are quite common. In a controlled environment, Wired recently reported on a hacker taking over a Jeep's driving controls, while BlueBox Security discovered children's communication could be intercepted over a Wi-Fi enabled Barbie doll (since pulled). Medical devices, security systems and other connected devices are also vulnerable to outsiders who will not only be able to operate them maliciously but also steal the emitted information.

Responsibilities of Connectivity

The more data that is made available the more personally responsible retailers will have to be for it. While consumers are willing to provide their information for a more personalized experience, brands need to be transparent about the ways in which they will use the data. This might include a revamp of the terms and conditions (especially for IoT products used in homes or other privacy critical areas); a quick guided tour of what data is collected, as well as how it will be used to personalize a user's experience, can also go a long way in reducing fears (similar to the approach Facebook takes to ensure users understand privacy settings).

Retailers may also want to look to social networks and email service providers to begin offering two-step verification. While everyone in retail is trying to reduce steps to conversion, frequent security breaches may warrant two-step verification as a way to ease consumer concern. Social login can also help, as can payment options like PayPal or Apple Pay and giving consumers greater control over how their data is collected, used and shared by retailers.

Two-Way Personalization

As more retailers look to combine and leverage the vast amount of data created from traditional marketing touchpoints (e.g., email, social, search) and emerging sources like IoT devices, 1:1 marketing will need to move beyond its current one-sidedness to give end-users more control and more transparency to decide to what degree they're willing to opt-in to the personalization of everything, which will go a long way for brand loyalty now and in the future.