It is no surprise that brands seek to gather customer data wherever they can, andsometimes this leads them tolook outside their usual spheres of influence.
This week, John Lewis has said it will offer deliveries from website purchases in 25 European markets from June, in part to learn more about demand there. Parallels can be drawn with GlaxoSmithKline’s launch of an online store, GSK Direct, last year – the first time the pharmaceuticals manufacturer has sold direct to consumers.
Brands have long been aware that data is not only a means to a marketing end, but also a valuable asset in itself. As more transactions move online – and soon, via “near-field communications”, onto mobiles – it will become routine for consumers to hand over some of their personal details along with their cash.
It is a trend that will only grow, whatever the privacy concerns surrounding it, and whether consumers are aware of it or not. For marketers, making a sale will be about knowing who has made the purchase as much as knowing what was bought.
But what do these two brands hope to achieve? The data will no doubt be valuable, but it will also be a bad barometer of their markets more widely.
The John Lewis site will not initially be translated into local languages or accept other currencies, meaning its users are likely to be mostly a mix of ex-pats and enlightened Anglophiles.
In GSK’s case, the store is unlikely ever to attract the weight of transactions necessary to give an accurate view of how consumers shop. They need a reason to buy their toothpaste separate from their tea-bags, yet most of GSK’s products are priced higher than in supermarkets.
The venture might help GSK to understand how users find its products online in the first place, and how they behave when they have. But regular shoppers are likely to be unusually heavy consumers of healthcare products – in short, anomalies.
John Lewis and GSK are probably aware of the limits to what they can catch on their respective data hunts. Neither appears to have invested in attracting a truly mainstream customer base through these experiments.
Marketers planning similar forays into unknown territories should take heed too, then.
Like using Twitter to track consumer sentiment, data gathering in half-measures might be indicative, but it will not be representative. Alone, it is certainly not a sound foundation on which to build a strategy.
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