GDPR provides retailers an opportunity to improve data governance

29 August 2017 4 min. read

In May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect – the new European privacy regulation, which replaces the existing data protection framework under the EU Data Protection Directive, will impact the data governance of organisations across the UK. While GDPR contains several obligations, forcing organisations to make changes in the way they operate, preparing for compliance can at the same time bring rise to new data opportunities, write Brian Kalms and Oli Freestone, a partner and principal at Elixirr.

In today’s market, data-driven retail is essential. A better shopping experience delivers higher sales, more frequent visits and greater likelihood of brand advocacy. Delivering “better” means understanding who your customers are, what they are looking for and why your proposition works for them. Gone are the days when this could be achieved just through gut feel.

Until recently collection, storage and analysis of personal data has largely been left to retailers to govern and control. But hacks and leaks have shown that this hasn’t worked well enough and so next May the biggest change in data protection laws for over two decades comes into force when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) replaces the existing rules.

There is no shortage of depressing articles highlighting the challenges of compliance and the severity of fines (up to 4% of global revenue). Few, if any, are highlighting the real opportunity this change presents as a catalyst for unlocking the value of data. Much like cleaning out the spare room, the new ruling gives retailers a mandate to do something many have been putting off for years.

GDPR provides retailers an opportunity to improve data governance

Four areas that provide opportunity for improvement in data governance:

Getting fit for the digital age

The digital-savvy retailer stores accept the importance of being data-driven and are transforming themselves to stay relevant. Understanding your customer, developing relevant offers and experiences and engaging them when and where they choose can’t be done without data. That means understanding what personal data you have, being clear on how you want to use it, and being rigorous in how you process and govern it. GDPR means giving your customers the right to opt in to the data they share. Consumers will have a choice on when, how and what to engage on, strengthening their relationships with retailers that develop the right proposition and safeguard their details, and punishing those who don’t.

Understanding what you hold, what you use and what’s redundant

Currently we find ourselves in a latter-day oil rush, with companies prospecting, mining and storing whatever personal data they can find. Those days are numbered. GDPR requires data holders to regularly review and delete data that’s not required, forcing retailers to think strategically about what data is truly important, how they use it to add real value, where to invest and what to erase to protect themselves. Data that does not exist cannot be stolen.

Improving ways of working

Mapping data structures and process flows may not sound strategic or even interesting, but it is one of the fundamental principles underpinning successful data-driven companies. Without it the propositions you want to build to serve your customers will remain just dreams. GDPR requires companies to re-evaluate how they process data, presenting a business opportunity to re-imagine the value data could bring.

Addressing technical debt

Legacy system failures hurt customers, tarnish brands and cost money. GDPR emphasises the importance of grasping the legacy nettle of “do later”. Any retail transformation is going to involve updating processes and systems not fit for purpose. This is not remediation – it’s a key platform for growth initiative.

Modern retail is reliant on data. The faster retailers embrace GDPR regulation as a catalyst for change, rather than an annoying compliance programme, the better.