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Retailers' privacy policies inadequate and unfriendly for customers

30th Jan 2012
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Four out of ten of the UK’s biggest online retailers fail basic customer friendliness tests when it comes to their privacy policies and don’t comply with new EU Data Protection legislation.

Household name companies including Boots, B&Q, BHS, Littlewoods, Next, John Lewis, Tesco, Waitrose, Wickes, and Virgin Atlantic failed to score more than 50% in a survey.
Market analyst Ctrl-Shift scored the privacy policies of the IMRG Hitwise TopShop list of 100 online retailers against ten key questions including how clearly the privacy policy is written, how easy it is for the customers to express and change their preferences, whether their data is used for marketing purposes and how they treat cookies and behavioural targeting.
None of the etailers analysed had yet fully complied with new cookie law requirements that cookies should not be placed on customers’ computers without the customer’s consent. These laws come in to force in the UK in May 2012.
The survey also found that 98% are less than upfront about their use of the ‘behavioural targeting’ of online advertising and/or fail to present customers with the ability to opt out; three quarters of retailers opt customers in to receiving electronic marketing communications, with two thirds placing some obstacles in the way of customers changing this option;.
At the same time, 90% have inadequate processes for informing customers of changes to their policies, 75% fail to inform customers about how long the customer’s data will be held and 40% fail to mention about their customers’ right to access their data.   

Ctrl-Shift defines a ‘customer friendly privacy policy’ as one which complies with letter and the spirit of the law, which is open and transparent about how the company uses the customer’s data; is genuinely educative and informative about its policies and uses of data; and provides customers with easy-to-use ways to express and change preferences and options.

Ctrl-Shift strategy director Alan Mitchell, said fast changing technology, customer attitudes and regulations meant most retailers’ privacy policies are now in urgent need of an overhaul.
“What a privacy policy says, or doesn’t say, is quickly becoming a proxy for trustworthiness and this can no longer be ignored. The research reveals that many retailers are behind the curve when it comes to their data relationships with customers. Leading organisations recognise that empowering people with more ways to control how their data is used and shared is key to unleashing greater value in the long- term,” Mitchell said. 

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