GDPR - the new EU directive that promises to set a new global standard on the collection, use and storage of personal data - comes in to force in May and is one of those pieces of legislation you really don't want to ignore or you could face significant fines of up to four per cent of company revenue (not profit).
It will affect different industries in different ways but, for those of us concerned about ecommerce, there will undoubtedly be an impact.
My primary concern is that retailers are being overly scared by rumour and misunderstanding, leading some to cut off valuable revenue streams and methods of keeping customers engaged unnecessarily.
New legislation of this type is designed to make us do better business, not less of it, but I have already encountered several clients talking about 'downing tools' when it comes to handling customer data, which is an extreme approach to ensuring compliance.
If you run an online business and your customer is essentially a string of data, not handling customer data could be very challenging indeed!
Take, for example, one of the most common forms of electronic marketing - email marketing.
Once GDPR comes into force on May 25, businesses must have a legitimate business interest in order to email an 'identifiable individual'.
However, instead of relying on this legitimate interest, many companies are taking the extreme step of cleansing their email lists by sending opt-in newsletters to their existing customer base, asking them to re-confirm their 'opt in' or be removed from the list.
This is a bold but ultra-safe approach and means companies risk throwing away years worth of legitimately accumulated, correctly stored, processed and commercially valuable data unnecessarily.
While this is just one example and, let's be honest, the power of email marketing has been fading for some years, we've also heard people questioning whether newer e-marketing techniques such as retargeting (where adverts follow you around the internet) will be allowed once GDPR comes into play.
The answer, in most cases, is yes so long as it is done responsibly and you understand where the data you're using comes from and how it is acquired, stored and managed.
GDPR should be making everyone in ecommerce realise that the way in which we market to our customers must evolve.
Yes we must work harder to keep our customers engaged but then again it should be tough, the tougher the better, and those that make the effort will continue to enjoy success.
It shifts the focus of customer retention onto creating a great first impression and delivering a great product so customers don't choose to unsubscribe or edit their data settings to avoid personalised promotions.
Increasingly, the most effective forms of marketing I see fall under the bracket of 'inbound marketing', making the customer want to find you not you finding the customer.
Shifting your resources and focus in this direction may take some time but it will ultimately produce a higher quality of customer and less exposure to changes in legislation in the future.
Chris Thomas is founder and chief executive of Apex Ecommerce
Tel: 0121 439 0750
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