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Retail Reflections: Don’t ignore new regulation; giving consumers what they want

Alan Monahan writes: Sorry, but I’m banging on again about the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is just six weeks away.

If you’re a retailer or run any other business that handles the personal data of EU citizens, you must comply with the new rules or face the prospect of a large fine.

The Information Commissioner’s Office will be responsible for enforcing the rules. However, as there are suspicions it is itself under-resourced, goodness knows how that’s going to happen, particularly as W8Data estimates that a third of retailers feel unprepared or are unaware of GDPR.

Are you one of the tens of thousands of businesses leaving themselves open to investigation? If so, you should at least begin to make the effort to comply: I doubt the ICO will be sympathetic if you don’t.

And although information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has said ‘this law is not about fines’, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few bigger fish in the retail pool which have – or are expected to have – access to IT experts are put through the wringer if they don’t comply as a warning to others.

The consensus view is that the ICO would achieve more through encouragement rather than coercion. As Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry says: ‘The ICO will be critical to creating an environment which focuses on education and prevention and not punishment.’

There must be a realisation that most small outfits just don’t have the knowledge to implement the changes that are required. But that doesn’t mean that retailers or any other firms affected by GDPR have carte blanche to do nothing.

You’ll know by now that I am still a big fan of cash payments, believing as I do that Big Brother – in the shape of government and retailers – is watching us every time we spend with our plastic.

Now I read in The Times that cash in circulation is growing at its slowest rate in 55 years. This is because shoppers have been ditching hard currency in response to easier contactless payments and the decision to withdraw banknotes, as well as lower card-handling fees.

Official figures for February showed that the annual growth of notes and coins in circulation dropped to 0.2%, its lowest level since 1963. The slowdown was even sharper than in 1972, the year after decimalisation when cash grew by 0.3%.

So, cash is no longer king. And given that retailers must surely know this, I was surprised to see research from retail technology firm Cybertill which revealed that a week after the roll-out of Instagram’s new Shopping feature there had been little uptake among signed-up business account users.

Some 80% of the top 500 UK retailers apparently ignored the new feature aimed at helping them to drive traffic to their e-commerce platforms. M&S, Miss Selfridge, New Look and River Island were among the UK brands that were quick off the mark, but none of the top five – ASOS, ASDA, Tesco, Argos or Next – had enabled the feature.

Ian Tomlinson, Cybertill’s CEO, says: ‘Retailers shouldn’t be precious about selling channels. Smart retailers move quickly to offer consumers what they want, when they want it. Experiential retailing is essential to winning over hearts and minds of consumers, Instagram is about as experiential as e-commerce can get. Instagram has always been a very good platform for selling, without the tools to do so effectively. That’s all changed now and retailers need to get with the program, or else be left behind.’

And Andy Burton, CEO of e-commerce firm Tryzens, agrees: ‘With 500 million people using Instagram each day, the market potential for retailers to capitalise on this move is huge. By working with Instagram, retailers will be able to reach the largest possible audience, who can purchase an item in a matter of seconds due to advancements in simplified payments on websites from the likes of Apple Pay, Android Pay, and PayPal.’

Richard Hopping, a Mintel analyst, tells me that while coconut oil has been used in the US in Kleenex facial tissue products, Tesco’s launch of Luxury Soft Coconut Oil toilet tissue is the first to enter into the coconut oil trend within the household paper category in the UK.

Well I’ll be blowed! And there was me thinking that you only used coconut oil in curry.

And it doesn’t end there. Mintel research shows that when buying toilet paper, 57% of buyers consider softness to be a key factor when purchasing, with the inclusion of coconut oil potentially boosting associations with this aspect. You don’t say! Furthermore, the moisturising properties of coconut oil ‘also seem well placed to entice users in that market’.

So, well done Tesco, you would seem to be on a winner there. Me? I couldn’t care less about your Luxury Soft Coconut Oil toilet tissue. The real bummer is the unacceptable ‘use by’ dates on many of the products you sell in my local supermarket.

And it’s the reason I increasingly shop at Aldi, which initially lured me through its doors with affordable and most acceptable wines.

So forgive me if I don’t raise a glass to Tesco.

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