Perception is Everything
I heard a radio commercial the other day that caught my attention. The announcer's booming voice informed listeners that Radio Shack is no longer asking for names and addresses of shoppers at its store checkout counters. What could have precipitated this radical change, I wondered.
Upon visiting the press room on Radio Shack's Web site, I found my answer ... well, sort of. A press release noted that the electronics company had stopped this routine information gathering as of the 2002 holiday shopping season, ending a nearly 40-year marketing and customer service practice.
The direct marketer asked customers to provide this information for several reasons: First, it was used as a mailing list for the company's mail-order catalog; second, it helped Radio Shack keep track of customer purchases, so when Jane Doe needed service for her on-the-fritz answering machine, the warranty information could be pulled to handle her transaction correctly; third, it was used to send in-home sales flyers to customers who wanted to be the first to know about promotions, new products and more.
The practice made sense, since there was value in it for both customer and company. But in today's age of increasing privacy worries, asking for people's names and addresses is not perceived as an enhancement to customer service. Radio Shack's Chairman and CEO Leonard Roberts said in the release, "Customers tell us the practice of asking them for names and addresses is time consuming and annoying and is not something that endears them to us."
Radio Shack is not going to stop sending out sales flyers, however. It's going to allow the customer to ask to be placed on the mailing list by telling a retail sales associate or calling the company's toll-free number; this number is also a conduit for customers who want to opt out of receiving promotions. And the company maintains that it will continue to gather data related to products covered by warranties, etc.
While Radio Shack was probably not harming anyone with its practice, the consumer perception must have been that Big Brother was spying on them. Just another example that internal policies are best made transparent to the customer if you want to earn their trust and loyalty.
A different flip of the coin has L.L. Beana traditional direct marketing company that is expanding into the retail channelcollecting customer information in store. During a holiday shopping trip to the L.L. Bean store in Marlton, NJ, I was asked for my home phone number. It seemed kind of odd that the store could do anything with this informationunless it can perform a reverse append of name and address to listed phone numbers, and create a telemarketing database. That seems a little too intrusive for a company that was founded on putting the customer first. If consumers are becoming as savvy as we think, it wouldn't be a bad idea to train sales personnel on why data is collected so they can adequately inform the occasional wary customer.