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Canadians willing to trade privacy for discounts at the grocery counter: study

As customer loyalty becomes food industry’s next battleground, consumers are wary of data sharing apps—but willing to fork over info if it means a cheaper bill 
FD-Epicurious 29.27 PHOTO BY EDWIN TAN-GETTY IMAGES
A new study shows that most Canadians are willing to share their data with food companies, retailers and restaurants as long as they get big discounts in return.

Even today, the paper flyers lining your shopping cart are a normal part of shopping at the grocery store. While the clutter of paper advertising the latest deals may be slightly annoying to deal with, there was never any real privacy concerns attached to them. 

That has changed as the food industry has shifted further towards digital technologies like smartphone apps to engage with consumers. Good news for the recycling bin, but not so much for your data. 

Just last month, Tim Hortons got a finger-wagging from Canada’s privacy commissioner after it was found the coffee shop chain’s app had violated privacy laws by collecting “vast amounts” of sensitive location data, tracking and recording users’ movements without consent every few minutes of the day, even when the app was not in use. 

In today’s corporate world, consumer data is king, and with the growing ubiquity of smartphone apps, “loyalty is the food industry’s next major battleground,” according to Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, which recently published the results of a study gauging Canadians’ willingness to share personal data through food-related apps. 

Researchers asked more than 7,000 people about data sharing and privacy, and found that slightly more than half—50.7 per cent—of those polled already use food apps. Grocery store-specific apps like Voila are less preferred (13.9 per cent) than early-market entrants and so-called “last-mile” delivery apps such as DoorDash (24 per cent) and Uber Eats (17.5 per cent). 

The survey specifically asked about the manner in which these apps collect and use personal data, singling out three: gathering personal information that consumers or someone else has posted online to create a detailed profile of their interests and personal traits; using information available about the consumer online to target specific products they may be interested in; and using information already available about them online to give them a more convenient shopping experience. 

A whopping 70 per cent of respondents said they weren’t concerned about any of the three ways the data could be used, while 30 per cent said they were concerned about at least one of them, and 16 per cent said they were concerned about all three of them. Notably, only 4.5 per cent of Canadians polled are unwilling to share their personal data. 

Men were more likely to have none of these concerns (72 per cent) compared to women (67 per cent), and Canadians living in the eastern parts of the country were more concerned than other regions. 

Canadians who are willing to share their data with a food company, retailer or restaurant tend to expect big discounts at the cash register. On average, 43 per cent of those polled said they would share data for a 10-per-cent discount, and 65 per cent are willing to share data for up to 15-per-cent off.  

“For Canadians, privacy is important, but food inflation is likely making Canadians willing to compromise to get better deals,” said Dr. Sylvain Charlebois from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in a release. “The Tim Hortons incident can be considered a warning to the food industry. Companies need to be clear on intent and how apps will work to build loyalty.” 

Canadians are less inclined to share data if it generates more targeted marketing, with 50 per cent of those surveyed saying they don’t want to share personal information if that’s how it will be used. Twenty-seven per cent, however, said they were comfortable with that tactic. 

With the use of data-sharing apps only expected to rise in future years as companies look to build loyalty, it will be interesting to see just how much of their privacy Canadians will be willing to sacrifice. What is clear is that companies will need to be transparent about how the data is used and what consumers will get back in return to make it worth shoppers’ while. 

To read the full report, visit dal.ca/sites/agri-food/research/privacy.html. n