The recent coverage surrounding Facebook has drawn attention to the use of data online. With GDPR’s introduction on 25th May bringing about the requirement for brands to reconnect with their customers, several challenges and opportunities around data present themselves. Loyalty programmes remain one of the most successful ways that brands can gain opt-in data, making them the perfect mechanism to stay ahead of the competition, by paying close attention to what their customers are telling them.

The challenges of data

The online retail environment has been completely transformed using data, with the majority of customers providing an opt-in to receive a better retail experience. ASOS and Amazon are two key examples. Interestingly, this creates a challenge where customers expect the same experience from one retailer to the next in what we term ‘liquid expectations’.

Liquid expectations present a wealth of complexities for retailers. The different ways in which customers can access their data and manage their preferences means brands have to respond in line with what they offer and how they offer it to individual customers. With GDPR imminent, brands are in the process of reaching out to their loyal customers to encourage them to re-opt-in to receive communications from them. Those that do it strategically are likely to be the most successful in keeping their customer data, while also leaving those customers questioning why others can’t provide a similar level of service.

Another manifestation of liquid expectations is the way data can be used to enhance a user’s experience. Starbucks’ very popular loyalty app provides a user experience that other coffee houses would struggle to replicate. Underlining the point, British Airways’ MyFlightPath online tool empowers users by providing a visual representation of their previous journeys, an excellent asset that gives customers a great chance to think carefully about their next destinations.

The opportunity for brands

Brands have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate social good to leverage their customer relationships. Many brands exist based on the data that they acquire from customers, and customers love them for it. Personalisation, customisation and recommendation are essential to new product discovery, as most Spotify or Netflix users will testify.

In fact, many start-ups have developed new market opportunities purely through the ability to demonstrate value using data. Thread is a free clothing recommendation tool, which allows customers to input their preferences to receive weekly recommendations and style advice. Customers are then guided seamlessly to the retailer’s site. In effect an aggregated search channel, Thread is a notable time saving tool, delivered in an emotive and human way.

But perhaps the greatest opportunity for retailers is presented in the creation of loyalty initiatives. The data is volunteered as customers are rewarded with excellent benefits for sharing. Their success has led to a point where the average UK shopper is familiar with, and a member of, multiple loyalty programmes.

The new era for loyalty

Data has enabled a new era of loyalty, and is a key factor in determining the success or failure of a brand. The ability to create a human connection and treat customers in line with their expectations is essential to building a strong relationship. Showing the value of a human connection, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO recently took to Twitter to ask his followers for their thoughts and ideas to contribute to the company’s membership programme. He received an overwhelmingly positive response, which resulted in subsequent product improvements.

This demonstrates the importance of customer service more generally. Customers are easily disappointed if a company they expect a high level of customer service from doesn’t deliver – for example, not having access to their details or records of their previous interactions. Monzo has revolutionised banking with its in-app messaging function linking a customer straight to a customer service representative. Meanwhile, First Direct has implemented customer service functions across social media – adapting to how customers actually wish to communicate.

A look to the future…

Data is crucial for the progression of retailers’ relationships with their customers, helping them to respond to ever-changing demands and expectations in the modern retail environment. Whether this is rewarding advocates or finding the best way to resolve concerns, data will be the core driver. Retailers increasingly understand that their customers expect more value in return for sharing their personal information, making loyalty initiatives a key area of growth for any competitive brand.

The sophistication of a brand’s customer data management and analysis can be the difference between success and failure. Retailers can look to partners as subject matter experts to guide them in managing the data, as well as extracting valuable insights that provide customers with improved services. Collinson’s data analytics capability has been crucial in guiding many retailers around the world to turn the value exchange in favour of the customer. The programmes that most satisfy customers are ones that will generate the best sentiment through traditional and social channels, further solidifying brand reputation and customer loyalty in the long term.

Steve Grout

Steve Grout


Steve Grout is Director of Loyalty at Collinson.