The ‘Art’ And ‘Science’ Of GDPR Consent For Retailers

0aaaEric Holtzclaw PossibleNOW

You’ve seen it before, the long form you must sign before participating in a potentially dangerous activity, the checkbox at the bottom of an end user agreement before you can use a new piece of software, the numerous documents that are part of every major financial purchase.

These arduous processes are developed by companies in response to a regulation, an issue or advice from a lawyer. Not surprisingly, organizations are responding similarly to growing regulatory concerns such as GDPR, ePrivacy and CCPA. In hopes of addressing the new regulations quickly and efficiently, enterprises err on the “science” side of consent collection while ignoring the “art” of consent collection. This is an important distinction because customer consent is the key that unlocks customer conversation and insights that drive a more meaningful exchange.

What is the ‘science’ of consent collection? It is the technology, data and regulations surrounding such collection. These elements are well-defined, understood across any retailer, are trackable and can be readily reported both inside and outside the retailer.


While there is nothing inherently wrong with viewing consent this way, by only approaching preference and consent management scientifically, enterprises are only “checking the box” — doing the bare minimum to achieve a passing grade. Just because a company deploys technology doesn’t mean it fully addresses customer and retailer needs or the intended spirit of the laws. In fact, a science-only approach prevents good retailers from benefiting from the best aspects of what consent management can offer.

In European countries, many companies are more mature in their view and further along on the timeline of allowing customers to provide consent. Organizations in these locales realize that to get a bigger take rate on collecting consent, they must marry preference with consent management to offer an incentive. If there is no perceived value to the individual providing consent, why would they willing provide it?

By adding preferences to consent, retailers allow customers to be specific with the types of communications, the cadence and the mode that they receive such communications. This increased specificity is a building block for trust between companies and customers, ultimately establishing and bolstering a long-term relationship.

To achieve the greatest return on investment for addressing mandatory compliance requirements, organizations should include a focus on the ‘art’ of consent and preference management. In doing so, preference and consent management drives initial adoption and results in the greatest long-term benefit.

Retailers must further approach consent with the goal of empowering customer conversations. They must focus on deploying implementations that drive more granular preferences across business units, applications, products, communication channels and desired frequency. This long-term perspective leads to healthy and profitable customer relationships. Factors such as timing, placement and design drive adoption by both the company and by its customers.

Aspects of deploying consent artfully include:

  • Consent Spot Collection: Instead of requesting consent via one singular checkbox or a long comprehensive form, consent is spread thoughtfully through the customer journey. Consent and preferences are collected from the customer at points that are significant — during registration, when looking for new products, etc. Taking advantage of these “moments that matter” increases the likelihood the customer will understand what they are agreeing to and their willingness to provide consent increases.
  • Ability to Opt Down: After consent is collected and communications are received, organizations that think of consent in broader terms provide well-designed and tailored forms that allow customers to opt down from communications they are currently receiving. These forms should be easily accessible from any customer touch point. A sophisticated opt-down approach is a step toward turning a would be global opt-out into a more useful and specific opt-in.
  • Proactive Suggestion: Based on customer behaviour, lack of engagement with outbound communications or customer-driven actions, companies may offer alternatives to current modes, frequency and types of communications. This prediction of a potential change in consent increases the likelihood of maintaining some level of consent for continued communications.

Privacy technology must be considered with industry-specific and problem-specific best practices — for example, a financial services company needs the ability to collect consent across multiple channels, such as in-person interaction, while an e-Commerce-only company does not. A one-size-fits-all approach will fall flat and ultimately negatively impact a company’s consent collection initiatives.

The best way to successfully combine the science with the art of consent and preference management is to review and evaluate implementations based on real world use cases. Spend time on competitive web sites, follow the “unsubscribe” link in emails and study customer engagement best practices. Combining this research with an understanding of why your customers provide consent in the first place, and how they benefit from doing so over their relationship with your company, is the foundation for a winning approach.

Regardless of your organization’s approach to addressing consent, download The Forrester New WaveTM: GDPR And Privacy Management Software, Q4 2018 report. This report provides insight into vendors that are equipped to solve your organization’s unique consent challenges across the spectrum of science to art.


Eric V. Holtzclaw is Chief Strategist of PossibleNOW. He’s a researcher, writer, serial entrepreneur and challenger-of-conventional wisdom. Check out his book with Wiley Publishing on consumer behavior – Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior. Holtzclaw helps strategically guide companies with the implementation of enterprise-wide consent and preference management solutions. PossibleNOW leverages powerful technology and industry-leading expertise to enable companies to listen to customers, remember what they like and dislike and respond in useful, personalized ways. Its enterprise consent and preference management platform, MyPreferences®, collects customer and prospect preferences, stores them safely and makes them available to any other system or application in the enterprise. PossibleNOW strategic services experts identify opportunities, plan technology deployments, design preference collection interfaces and position clients for a win. For more information call (800) 585-4888 or visit

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