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When Personalization Hits Too Close to Home
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When Personalization Hits Too Close to Home

Privacy concerns vary for everyone,

Privacy app

Photograph: Shutterstock

CHICAGO —Convenience stores looking to upgrade their loyalty programs these days are focused on offering a personalized experience for their customers. This is a worthy goal, and some c-stores are making great strides on this front. But remember, it is possible to have too much personalization.

I read headlines from the satirical website The Onion often, mostly because it feels as if the headlines are making fun of me specifically. It’s nice to be reminded not to take yourself seriously, and The Onion does a great job of reminding me to make fun of myself every once in a while.

For instance, anyone who knows me knows that I’m from Texas. Furthermore, they probably know my position that Whataburger is without a doubt the best fast-food burger chain in America. Periodically, a link from The Onion will pop up on my Facebook feed with the headline, “Man Derives Depressing Amount of Pride From Hometown Burger Chain.” The subject in the photo is even wearing a Whataburger t-shirt.

Touche, The Onion. Touche.

Sometimes, however, this otherwise enjoyable level of personalization goes too far. Recently, a headline from The Onion appeared on my Facebook feed that reads: “Man’s Ironclad Grasp of Issue Can Withstand Two Follow-Up Questions.” The corresponding photo depicts two young men sitting across from each other at a table in a bar, ostensibly filling the air between them with self-congratulatory drivel about how smart they are.

The headline reminds me not to take my political rants over beers with friends too seriously, which is good. What’s not good is that the man in the photo looks eerily similar to a friend of mine. One of our favorite pastimes is going out to bars that look just like the one depicted in the photo to chat, catch up and rant about philosophy and politics. Of course, we haven’t done this recently due to COVID-19, but you get the idea.

The “Hometown Burger Chain” level of personalization is cute and welcome, but when things hit too close to home, it, frankly, becomes creepy.

Just Ask

C-stores should take note as they strive to deliver greater levels of personalization to their customers. Yes, your customers want you to understand them so that you can offer them what they want, but there is a limit to the level of personalization each customer will accept.

That limit is different for everyone and often changes depending on the circumstance. For instance, I was adamantly opposed to buying an Amazon Echo smart speaker because I did not want Amazon listening to every word I say in my living room. I threw my security concerns to the wayside when I realized I could program the device to turn all of our Christmas lights on and off with a single verbal command. I could not pass up the opportunity to surprise my wife with this ability, and thus ended my self-imposed boycott of the Amazon Echo.

See Also

Herein lies another lesson. Consumers will ease up on their privacy concerns if you can demonstrate that you are giving them something that they value in return for their personal data. An ideal approach: Offer customers a selection of perks or rewards to choose from in exchange for their data. The customer gets the idea that you have their best interests at heart, and–bonus–their choice of reward will give you more insight into what they truly value.

The tension between personalization and privacy is already starting to pop up in c-stores. I stopped by a gas station to fill up before a recent road trip, and the television monitor in the fuel dispenser spoke to me directly. “Hey you,” it shrieked. “Yeah you, pumping gas! Did you know … .” I instinctively blocked out the rest of the advertisement. I just wanted to pump my gas and be on my way. What’s more, if a real person addressed me that way, I wouldn’t give them the time of day, either. Thankfully, it was easy to blow off the figure flailing on the screen in front of me.

Remember to be careful how you approach personalization. Otherwise, your customers will do their best to get away from you as fast as they can while you flail for their attention.

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