Published on: March 18, 2014by Michael Sansolo
It’s hard to imagine that any business - no less retail - has somehow ignored the ongoing news from Target stores. Just last week there were reports of soft sales from the powerhouse retailer with much speculation focused on the lingering impact of the company’s massive data spill.
As we’ve argued here in the past, other businesses will look at such news with a sense of schadenfreude - the wonderful German word meaning taking joy at the misfortune of others - when they should be viewing it as a cautionary tale.
Misery, we know, loves company and no doubt it’s simply a matter of time until others sadly face the issues tainting the once (and likely once again) glorious brand of Tar-zhay.
A new study conducted by Balance Innovations (Full disclosure: a member of the MNB family of sponsors) and 210 Analytics shows just how serious the entire issue of data security has become. In many ways the negative attention and reaction being visited on Target should be viewed in much the same way as some of the earliest well-publicized food safety outbreaks.
If you don’t recall how much impact those issues had, try to have lunch one of these days at Chi-Chi’s. That once popular restaurant chain came apart only a decade ago. Weakened by financial issues, Chi-Chi’s fate was sealed by a large food-borne illness outbreak. Today, Chi-Chi’s no longer operates in the US.
Anne-Marie Roerink, once FMI’s research director and now the brains at 210 Analytics, says the recent study of shopper attitudes toward data security revealed it to be far more troubling to shoppers than even food safety. Today nearly half of shoppers are very confident about food safety, while only 39% feel the same about the safety of their payments.
Every way Anne-Marie looked at the numbers, she found a troubling story. Consider that 12% of shoppers have little to no confidence in payment safety. And among every age group, food safety confidence easily tops feelings about payment safety.
The only slightly comforting news for supermarket operators is that shoppers have slightly more confidence in the channel’s handling of data security than they have in clubs, specialty stores or supercenters. But that’s only until another news story breaks.
The thing is, this issue isn’t going away. While a significant percentage of every shopper age group says they are using more cash in purchases, the reality is that most habits aren’t changing. Whether shoppers are in their 30s or 60s, it’s clear that plastic is part of the way they buy things and that’s not going to change.
As Anne-Marie and I discussed these troubling findings, we wondered whether the level of concern reflects a powerful reality: shoppers have learned that there are many steps they can take to improve food safety at home. Data safety is another matter; there is no control.
All in all, it points to a couple of important to-dos, starting with the steps hopefully every company is taking to shore up defenses wherever possible. It’s cold comfort to read that Target fired its CIO, despite her unheeded warnings that more security was needed.
It might be time to look at data the way we should look at so many issues in the supermarket; with an eye on how we can help our shoppers get smarter, better and safer. When it came to food safety the industry took fabulous steps to educate consumers on proper food handling, refrigeration, cooking and cleaning. Those steps made the shopper a better partner in an important fight.
Incredibly, data security may be an even harder battle. But as Target keeps showing us, it may be every bit as important.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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