Concerns about internet privacy are nothing new. Pew Research started tracking the spread and impact of social media in 2005. Since then, several incidents have highlighted to Americans that their information isn’t as private as they want it to be. Edward Snowden’s releases in 2013, various data breaches at major companies, and, most recently, the fact that bots and Facebook may have played a significant role in recent elections have all caused concerns.
These incidents have led internet users to be more concerned than ever about who gets their information and what is done with it. In fact, according to data collected for TrustE, 92% of online users have concerns about privacy.
This has huge implications for companies that sell products online. In general, online retailers need to collect a lot of information: addresses, credit card information, passwords, and more. Many companies also collect a lot of data through cookies and other methods to determine demographics and better target advertising for future transactions. Almost 20% of users felt forced to use a website they didn’t trust; 30% of those users did so because it was the only place they could get a particular product or service.
28% of online consumers have stopped an online transaction because they felt the company was collecting too much personal data; 32% have stopped downloading a program or app for the same reason. Those numbers should be more than enough to give any company pause; thirty percent of customers were ready to make a purchase, but stopped because of data concerns.
So what can companies do to ease customer concerns and make sure they’re not losing sales?
Almost all companies have that “I Agree” button that must be checked to move forward in their account creation process. The document attached contains a lot of very specific contractual obligations laying out what the user promises to do and not do while utilizing the site.
Online privacy practices are indispensable for internet users and generally laid out in this document, but only 33% of users know to look for it, and less than 20% have actually read it.
What this means is that you can’t rely on users reading your highly detailed legal statements to understand your privacy practices.
Instead, lay them out simply. For example:
• Promise not to share or sell data
• Promise not to retain unnecessary data
• Tell customers what they need to do to delete their information.
44% of consumers believe that customer awareness improves online safety. If more customers expect clear statements of privacy, they are more likely to continue to use online services in the way businesses need and want them to.
Understand what customers want
Companies sometimes act like customers have inscrutable concerns about privacy, and suggest that there is no way of giving customers they need. In fact, customers are quite clear about what they want from companies they’re working with, according to the TrustE survey.
• 45% want control over who can access their information.
• 42% want to know how their data is used.
• 41% want control over what data can be shared.
• 23% want to be able to delete data that has been collected.
By being transparent about these details, companies can help customers feel safe and secure on their websites and keep customer business where it belongs.
Only keep what you really need
It is an era of big data, and more and more companies are looking to collect as much data as possible in order to more carefully tailor advertising, marketing programs, product suggestions, email campaigns, and much more. But analyzing that data is a big job, and one only the biggest companies can do on their own.
Smaller companies should really wonder if it’s worth hiring a firm to analyze big data for them. Many successful small companies already work with a very niche audience; it may not be worthwhile to collect more data to further narrow targeting pools.
If you can let some of that information go, do so, and let your customers know.
At the same time, consider whether it’s worth it to store much PII in the first place. After all, the cost of protecting credit card numbers and associated data is high. It may be simpler to either not retain that information or to use a third-party processor that customers are familiar with.
This can also increase trust, since many third-party processors offer some sort of guarantee or warranty against problems with the product or service. This can help customers feel like they’ll have back up if something goes wrong. A third-party verification that the site has proper procedures in place to handle data, such as a seal of approval.
Ultimately, the goal is to let customers know what’s happening with their information so that they can make their own decisions about how to move forward. If businesses are losing up to a third of their customers due to asking for too much information, it’s definitely time to reconsider what information is truly necessary to gather.