Retail Week’s panel debate on data collaboration heard senior retail figures criticise Amazon for lack of personalisation despite its supposedly enviable customer data.

The retail sector is immature when it comes to data and Amazon is “terrible” at personalisation.

That is according to an expert panel assembled by Retail Week in partnership with InfoSum, which examined how retailers are only on the cusp of understanding the possibilities when it comes to data. 

The lively debate – Shaping insight together: the power of data collaboration, available to watch in full here – took place at Retail Week’s head office on Friday and was broadcast live. Watch a clip of the recorded discussion below.

While Amazon is often lauded for the sheer volume of customer data it has amassed, Tim Mason, Eagle Eye boss and former Tesco deputy chief executive, called into question how intelligently it is taking advantage of that information.

“We’re on the cusp of the stone and iron ages, happily hunting and gathering with wood and rock not realising we’re walking past iron ore every day. One or two organisations have found the iron ore”

He said the etail giant does a “terrible job” of personalisation by recommending its customers products they don’t want.

Mason, who was the brains behind Tesco Clubcard, said of Amazon: “They know everything you do, the minute you go on the site they know where you are, what you are looking at. [But] they do a terrible job of personalising.

“This thing about ‘we are going to be the most customer-facing business in the world’ – there is some definition of customer facing that I don’t recognise in that organisation.”

When asked what he would do differently at Amazon, Mason said: “I would get some people who genuinely understand marketing and understand consumers.”

Introducing a new role

Mason also urged retailers to appoint a new role in their organisations, a “customer ID manager”, whose responsibility it is to source prospective customers through various means, including promotions, games or treats such as a free cup of coffee.

He said retailers should then try and build a one-to-one relationship with them – something that retailers have always found difficult when it comes to prospective customers.

InfoSum chief commercial officer Nicola Walker, who also sat on the panel, noted a growing customer unease over sharing personal information in light of GDPR and the recent Facebook scandal.

She said the new way to gain consumer insight would be for retailers to connect data sets and analyse data on an aggregated and anonymised basis.

She added that data collaboration would enable smaller retailers with less information on their customers to better compete with their large counterparts.

Former House of Fraser chief information officer Julian Burnett, who previously held senior positions at Sainsbury’s and John Lewis, stated that retailers are “really immature in respect of data”.

He said: “We’re on the cusp of the stone and iron ages, happily hunting and gathering with wood and rock not realising we’re walking past iron ore every day. One or two organisations have found the iron ore.”

Watch the debate in full here.