Macy's: Marketers Should Defend Data Use But Show Restraint

Why Retailer Could Use Your Phone to Track You -- But Doesn't

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Macy's sees plenty of value in data-driven marketing and believes consumers should hear more from marketers about the benefits. But that doesn't mean the retailer will be secretly tracking shoppers by their mobile phone signals and linking the data with their transactions and home addresses.

Julie Bernard, senior VP-customer strategy, marketing and advertising of Macy's
Julie Bernard, senior VP-customer strategy, marketing and advertising of Macy's

Speaking at the D2 Digital Dialogue conference in Cincinnati Sept. 11, Julie Bernard, the retailer's senior VP-customer strategy, said marketers should speak up more often and forcefully to defend data use and counter negative media coverage. But she said they also need to show restraint.

"The media has spun this story so negative, and it's really a shame that people in our positions have not taken a more dominant position on speaking on the macro and micro economic benefits of delivering relevancy by responsibly using customer data," said Ms. Bernard during a question-and-answer period to an audience of more than 300 marketers and agency executives. The event was organized by Macy's analytics firm Dunnhumby USA and the Cincinnati chapter of the American Advertising Federation.

Ms. Bernard said Macy's executives, in various public forums, like to focus on the micro benefits, such as more relevant product selections and advertising, and macro benefits such as increased sales for Macy's, which lead to broader economic growth.

"There's a funny consumer thing ," she said. "They're worried about our use of data, but they're pissed if I don't deliver relevance. … How am I supposed to deliver relevance and magically deliver what they want if I don't look at the data?"

But too much relevance, or collecting data too intrusively, can backfire, Ms. Bernard said.

"We could today if we wanted to -- we are not -- I could just track every phone that came into Macy's without announcing to people," Ms. Bernard said. "If that phone stood in front of my register for more than 20 seconds, I could associate that [ID] with those transactions." That would in turn allow Macy's to find those shoppers' home addresses and deliver tailored in-store and online offers too.

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," she said. Macy's doesn't want to "get ahead of consumer readiness" in a way that could lead to "brand erosion," she said.

Missed opportunities
Data-driven marketing is a combination of "art and science," she said, noting that limiting ad messages too closely to what consumers buy can be boring and miss opportunities. Some men who shop at Macy's might only buy golf shirts, but Macy's experiments with complementary messages rather than just sending them ads for golf shirts.

Macy's has had successes, such as by working with L'Oreal's Lancome to deliver personalized advertising across email, direct mail and online display advertising based on what they buy, said Ms. Bernard and co-presenter Anne Dunn O'Connell, senior VP-marketing strategy, creative and production for Macys.com.

The retailer also has the occasional glitch, such as one in which a customer got a mailer with the same product featured page after page, which Ms. O'Connell joked was "extreme relevance."

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