Would CRM Work If Customers Had An On/Off Switch?

Equifax on Thursday (Nov. 13) announced an E-Commerce CRM and payment card that consumers can activate and deactivate based on how they feel about the site they are visiting.

The credit database giant argued that such a card could potentially reduce "the need for companies to retain customers' personal identification information, which could also result in the reduction of risks posed by data breaches." Although that theoretically could be the case, the only way such a card—dubbed the Equifax online identity card—will be successful is if it's adopted by a large number of retailers. And each of those retailers would have to be willing to surrender one of their most precious pieces of data: customer history.

The marketing battle for such a card could move to consumers—which appears to be Equifax's initial approach—on the rationale that if enough consumers have the cards, retailers would have little choice but to accept the cards and the corresponding loss of data control. That leaves Equifax in an uncomfortable chicken-and-egg position, where consumers would be unlikely to embrace the card until it's accepted by many—if not most—of their favorite retailers.

The consumer argument focuses on the payment aspect of the card, promising shoppers "greater security and control and without having to fill in forms or remember multiple passwords," according to an Equifax statement. "People will be able to create and collect (cards) that contain personal data such as their profile, purchase preferences, payment, or verified identity information" and the cards will allow consumers to "release their personal data to accepting Web sites they trust with a single click."

But there are potential advantages for retail IT if such an approach works. Because the CRM data would be collected from multiple merchants that the consumer used, it potentially could be a much more comprehensive and extensive snapshot of that customer's buying history. A typical retailer today would, at best, have a complete list of the purchases from that customer only at that retailer's own stores. (A current mobile payment trial in Japan specifically added programming to prevent any one retailer from viewing CRM from another retailer.)

Just like the online manager who must offer discounts and other incentives to get people to use their loyalty cards, the approach Equifax is pushing would force online sites to constantly give consumers a reason to use their loyalty cards.

This approach raises many questions. One implication is that consumers could allow a retailer to have data access once and then chose whether to offer such access to that retailer again based on how responsibly it handled that data. That could be a powerful method to encourage retailers to be more discreet and courteous data users.

But what would prevent a retailer that is given initial access from capturing it all and then saving it locally, tracking the user with either a cookie or a password, thereby bypassing both the convenience and the data control originally promised?