Understanding your rights to your email address and its privacy

For some time now when making in-store purchases shop assistants have been requesting our email address. If you haven’t yet noticed this practice, it is likely it will not be very long until you do. As in fact, some of the UK’s major high street players are now requesting that their customers provide their personal email addresses at the point of completing any purchase. You may ask why this is the case and it’s a tricky question to answer simply. When making a purchase whether via the likes of Debenhams, New Look or Halfords, to name but a few, you will be advised your email address is required for your e-receipt. This means following your in-store purchase the company in question will email you a copy of your receipt to your email account instead of providing a printed copy there and then. This is becoming an increasing common practice up and down the UK but today we will be asking why it is so and what’s wrong with the good old fashioned printed receipt.

Interestingly, the gathering of email addresses at the point of purchase is becoming an very common practice and as such has come to the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). It would seem whilst it is true that high street stores are using customer email addresses to provide electronic copies of purchase receipts, this is certainly not their only reason for gathering this personal consumer data. Increasingly the ICO are receiving reports to suggest that major UK stores, like the ones mentioned above, are gathering this information to later market and monitor the spending habits of their consumers. Whilst this practice in principle is certainly nothing new nor ground-breaking, the manner of gathering consumer email addresses is one of the newer marketing tricks to hit consumers. Gathering a customer’s email address at the point of purchase in-store is allowing retailers to target those who perhaps may not of provided such information previously; given their individual preference to shop at the high-street and not online. This therefore gives retailers a new consumer group who can then be targeted for marketing in the future, who may have otherwise not spend online.

Whilst there are those consumers who would like to receive future marketing from high street retailers following an in-store purchase, the issue appears to lay with intended misinformation of why the email address is being gathered at the till in the first place. A recent article in the Daily Mail details at length how some stores employees are being intrusted to obtain the email address of each customer ‘at all costs’, with some store assistants admitting they receive a bonus based on the number and frequency in which email addresses are obtained. Recent investigations seem to high-light the fact that getting the customers email address at the point of purchase, is being achieved via several different means. Some shop helpers have confessed to simply asking for the email address without fully disclosing its purpose, whilst others state it’s for a e-receipt but then fail to admit it will be used for marketing purposes also. The official stance of retailers is that a e-receipt can be more conveniently stored and does away with the requirement to hold onto a piece of paper, acting as a warranty also but increasing numbers of consumers have expressed their distress at the number of marketing emails which later follow the arrival of their e-receipt.

The fact of the matter is the legal rights you hold for your in-store purchases do not change dependant on the way your receipt is received. This means whether paper based or electronic, providing it is stored by the customer; its legal standing is the same. This means high street stores are currently being somewhat underhand when they automatically request the email address, for the sole purpose of the requirement to provide a receipt. This is then being exacerbated by later using the email address for various and on-going marketing campaigns. The ICO has recently issued a warning to retailers to ensure they are following correct and proper practices when it comes to the gathering of consumer data; specifically email addresses. They add that retailers who are found to be misguiding consumers will later be fined accordingly. This means when obtaining the email addresses of customers they must be clear of their intention to use it for marketing purposes in the future; should this be a reason for requesting it in the first place.

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Author: Internal Customer Services Agent