Opt-In a Must: Consumer Survey Indicates Retailer Risks with Indoor Location

There have already been several surveys that show consumers are interested in the benefits of indoor location and will share their personal data or opt-in when they're clear on what those benefits are. See, for example: 

A new survey (n=1,024 US adults) from OpinionLab shows that consumers are skeptical about indoor "tracking" and only want to participate in indoor location and marketing programs if they're opt-in. In an article about the survey Fortune sensationalizes the findings "Consumers hate in-store tracking (but retailers, startups and investors love it)."  

That headline overstates the degree to which consumers are hostile to being located in stores. It's very fair to say they're ambivalent and cautious about indoor location, though most haven't had any experience of indoor location at this point and are speaking only in the abstract.

The use of the word "track" is very charged and that's the framing here -- "In your opinion, is it acceptable for retailers to track shoppers’ in-store behavior via smartphone?": 

  • No -- 77%
  • Yes -- 23% 

An alternative question such as "would you be willing to share your location with retailers for benefits X, Y, Z" would have produced a different result. Indeed, how surveys present these issues to consumers really matters (see, e.g., Majority Of Shoppers Want Cross-Channel Personalization.) Accordingly survey results can be manipulated to serve agendas in favor of or against indoor location. 

Another question in the OpinionLab survey similarly predisposes the outcome -- "If one of your favorite retailers were to implement a tracking program in their stores, would you participate?":

  • No -- 63%
  • Yes -- 38% 

This survey found that consumers are open to indoor location if the programs are entirely opt-in (even with the "tracking" framing) -- "In your opinion, what is the best way for retailers to approach in-store tracking?"

  • Opt-in -- 64%
  • Opt-out -- 12%
  • No tracking at all -- 24%

Consistent with earlier surveys, consumers say they would opt-in for discounts and other incentives -- "What incentives would motivate you to participate in a retail tracking program?": 

  • Save money / price discounts 61%  
  • Free products 53% 
  • Chance to win a big prize (vacation, HDTV) 28%  
  • Better shopping experience overall 24% 
  • Unlock new experiences and awards as you shop the aisles 23% 
  • Personalized attention from store associates 12% 

What this survey, like others before it, shows is that consumers have real privacy concerns about indoor location and tracking. However, the word "tracking" is one that triggers an immediate, negative response and associations (i.e., "surveillance," "spying"). By contrast, discussing the benefits of indoor location produces a very different set of findings (see other surveys).

Yet the OpinionLab survey also shows that uncer the right circumstances consumers will share their location where retailers ask for permission (opt-in) and the benefits are sufficiently enticing and clear. 

Despite my criticisms of the framing of the OpinionLab survey I think it does illustrate that there are clear risks for retailers around indoor location if they don't respect consumer privacy and don't get the messaging to consumers right.

At the upcoming Place Conference Jules Polonetsky, Executive Director and Co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, will moderate a session on consumer privacy: "Indoor Location & Privacy: Steering Clear of the ‘Creepy Line.'"