Survey: 99 Percent Of Consumers Will Share Personal Info For Rewards, But Want Brands To Ask Permission

Consumers repeatedly say in surveys that they want more personalization — but also more privacy. This is an apparent contradiction. But maybe it’s not.

Consumers have consistently shown ambivalence about sharing their data even as they call for more “relevant ads” and customized experiences online. In fact the arena of consumer digital privacy has become almost like an ink blot or the world of diet and nutrition: there’s so much conflicting information you can interpret the data almost any way you want.

A recent consumer survey (n=507 US consumers) from Boxever found, for example, “that 60 percent indicated they prefer offers that are targeted to where they are and what they are doing, but 62 percent said that they do not want retailers tracking their location.”

A much larger global study commissioned by Microsoft and called The Consumer Data Value Exchange equally illustrates some of the tensions at the heart of this discussion. The survey spanned multiple countries and had many thousands of respondents. It also points to potential reconciliation of the privacy-personalization paradox in two related principles: defined benefits and explicit permission.

The Microsoft survey involved questions and hypotheticals surrounding new experiences associated with or powered by digital assistant Cortana, which uses email, search history, location and other information to deliver personalized services and content.

At the highest level the survey exposed some of the contradictions previously observed in the findings of other similar surveys:

  • 54 percent of consumers “expect brands to really know and understand them as people, and for communications to be tailored to their values and preferences.”
  • 55 percent of respondents know that “searches, site visits and purchases” are being collected and monitored without permission.

Despite their ambivalence, consumers have also shown a willingness to share personal data when there are clearly defined benefits in return (e.g., discounts, loyalty points). The hierarchy of incentives or rewards identified in the Microsoft survey was as follows:

  • Cash rewards — 99.6 percent
  • Discounts — 89.3 percent
  • Loyalty points for services and products — 65.2 percent

Microsoft also found that for a class of “new digital services” majorities of consumers were willing to share their information:

  • 79 percent of people will share their search history
  • 65 percent will share their site visits
  • But only 19 percent would share purchase history

The specific digital services in question were not clearly explained or defined in the material we saw. But broadly the survey reported that under some enhanced personalization scenarios larger numbers of respondents (between 80 and 90 percent) said they would share information.

What are consumers willing to share? The following:

  • 70 percent will share personal history
  • 75 percent will share age
  • 73 percent will share gender

As has been shown elsewhere, certain populations (e.g., connected consumers) are more willing to share than others. Microsoft also observed that consumer willingness to share data has become more common over time: “Consumers are looking for a better experience across devices and more willing to share information than they were two years ago. ”

In addition, majorities of consumers will opt for more ads and less privacy over paying for services or content. This is also not a new finding.

The Microsoft survey data and other data I’ve seen argue that consumers need to understand clearly why they’re being asked to share their information. If the rationale is logical or persuasive (i.e., rewards) they’ll do it. But they also want to be asked explicitly for permission, a related but distinct exercise.

To borrow the medical term, consumers want to give marketers “informed consent.” Indeed, Microsoft found, “83 percent of survey respondents said they ‘expect brands and advertisers to ask for their permission before they use their digital information.'”


About The Author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.