How can a retailer ensure it has the right balance on customer data?’s soaring profits after investing in personalised home pages have made it clear that big data is much more than a marketing tactic. In a competitive market, it should be driving strategy for online and bricks-and-mortar retailers alike.

“We increasingly find that retail clients want to utilise large banks of data to advertise and interact with customers, promote products and services to certain groups and drive sales,” says Addleshaw Goddard’s privacy and data protection solicitor Laura Scaife.

Although big data represents an exciting opportunity, it must be used in a legally compliant manner. While not all big data allows shoppers to be identified when the retailer drills down to an individual level, the necessary consent to use information about that customer must have been obtained.

“Big data is often anonymised and personal identifying information removed,” says Scaife. “It’s not impossible to identify people and granular insight is ever more an attractive possibility but, ultimately with big data, anonymisation and privacy can be successfully combined as long as there is regular analysis and appropriate security measures. The same is true of traditional data use in any organisation.”

The ‘spook factor’ associated with data and what retailers know about shoppers can be alarming for customers so ensuring they see the benefits big data can bring is essential.

“Many consumers have surprised data holders with their tolerance for data usage, but there needs to be a clear personal benefit,” says Scaife. “In this value trade-off ensuring customers understand how and why their data may be used, or indeed shared with others, is key.”