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Verizon exec: Mobile will save retail

NEW YORK - Mobile offers opportunities for brands and merchants to deliver contextual services that can delight customers, according the members of a panel discussion at the MMA Forum on Wednesday. However, because such services require collecting customer data, they are also fraught with issues such as how to gather this information without losing the trust of customers.

The panel discussion, ?Optimizing Mobile Commerce and the Consumer Experience,? focused on best practices for safeguarding consumer confidence when collecting customer data. By finding the right balance between collecting data for contextual services and retaining trust, merchants and brands are able to deliver the kinds of exciting and relevant experiences that consumers are looking for.

?I think mobile is going to save retail,? Ash Evans, director of corporate strategy at Verizon. ?The notion that we can help a consumer who is walking past a store and engage them with information that is helpful to them via mobile is amazing.

?The ability to identify someone is important ? brands know less than seven percent of the people visiting their site,? he said.

The panel was moderated Thomas Labarthe, vice president of mobile commerce at Alcatel-Lucent. Other panelists included Johann Huber-Guttierez, director of convergence & mobile strategy at Resource Interactive and Michael Collins, global CEO of Joule.

Multiple identities
While financial institutions and other organizations have been collecting data about consumers and sharing it with third parties for years, the reason there is so much concern about security in the mobile space is because the devices are so personal.

?This device is so personal to me, that is why people are so alarmed,? said Resource Interactive?s Mr. Huber-Guttierez. ?But there is precedent ? it has been going on.?

One of the challenges for retailers is that they have multiple identities for one consumer based on in-store activity, mobile activity and interactions with the credit team, making it difficult to have a 360-degree view of a customer?s activities with that retailer.

Once this data is centralized, mobile can help retailers drive their CRM efforts because it links so easily with their online, offline and in-store efforts.

The goal should be to find the right balance of being able to deliver the exciting experiences to customers that they are looking for while also retaining their trust.

?The balance is not in how the data is collected but in what you do with it and who you share it with,? said Joule?s Mr. Collins. ?If I have a relationship with a retailer and I am providing data to that entity, if it is shared with a third-party, that could be viewed by the consumer as breaking the trust.?

?The issue is about how do make it actionable but still respect the relationship that enabled it to be collected in the first place,? he said.

The best way to make customers feel confident about a retailer?s request for data and to insure they are providing the levels of personal data that will enable a merchant to make the mobile experience more valuable is to give customers control.

?Give them control,? said Verizon?s Mr. Evans. ?Tell them this is being used for the following purposes.?

Best practices
One of the best practices for data collection in the mobile space is for brands to hold on tight to any data they do collect.

?One of the best practices is when one of our brands engages with a consumer, that interaction is proprietary to that brand,? Joule?s Mr. Collins said. ?If it is shared, that breaks the relationship the consumer has in that brand. Crossing that line is a very very dangerous place to go.

?Second, always give the consumer the ability to opt out,? he said. ?Consumers can turn off cookies on their browsers but they can?t turn off UDID.

?We don?t target by UDID or we look to protect that information and don?t share it with third parties.?

UDID is a unique identifier tied to a user?s mobile device that is for tracking purposes by many marketers but which is currently being phased out by Apple and others because of security concerns that it can be tied to personally identifiable information.

Removing any personally identifiable information from data is another best practice. For example, ad networks and others are collecting customer data but taking pains to insure it is not tied to any personally identifiable information.

?People are scrubbing PII before it gets stored,? said Resource Interactive?s Mr. Huber-Guttierez. ?They are creating a universal key around an individual profile, taking different data points but scrubbing out the name and any other PII.?

The ability to continue collecting personal information from customers is important as this information can help in a variety of ways to be better merchants, sometimes with the help of mobile.

For example, mobile coupled with personal information can help retailers combat showrooming, which is when customers use a mobile device in-store to find a better price on the same or a similar item offered by retailer.

One of the reasons showrooming has taken off is because of a trend toward placing fewer staff members on store floors, leaving shoppers to fend for themselves, per Johann.

Neiman Marcus is one retailer that is addressing this with an app that enables people in the store to interact with a store associate and also enables store associates to recognize when a particular customer that they know comes into the store.

Another example is a shoe retailer who has captured it bests customers shoe sizes and favorite colors and then uses mobile to push that information to a female customer?s husband before Mother?s Day.

?Showrooming is not going away,? said Joule?s Mr. Collins. ?Mobile has set up the problem and it may be able to help by providing an additional level of service.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York