Consumers will dish out the information, as long as companies dish out the extra services. According to a survey conducted recently by The Personalization Consortium in Los Angeles, Calif., few consumers are unwilling to provide personal information to Web marketers in exchange for better services.
"Companies and Web sites that can accommodate different service streams for different customers are finding real pay off by doing that because they make the customer more loyal," says Don Peppers, of the Peppers and Rogers Group in San Mateo, Calif., who co-chairs the Personalization Consortium. The Consortium is an advocacy group of companies formed to promote the responsible use of technology for personalizing consumer and business relationships. The e-mail survey was sent to 20,000 North American adult Internet users, and had 4,500 respondents.
According to Peppers, the primary finding of the study is customers would be upset if Web sites stopped collecting their information because they value the convenience afforded to them by personalization. "If I've told you something about me, I don't have to tell you again and again," Peppers says. "I don't have to tell you where I live to order from you a second time."
Customers have to see perceived benefits that will compensate them for sharing information, according to Adel Melek, partner at Deloitte and Touche Secure e-Business in Toronto. "Some of the benefits are the concept of single sign-on.
The site will start doing some personalization and customization of my expectations and needs. There are certain expectations that individuals, over time, are going to be educated in or (are) getting to expect," Melek says.
The survey reveals 73 per cent of consumers find it helpful and convenient when a Web site "remembers" basic information about them -- since 62 per cent of users say they dislike Web sites requesting personal information they have already provided. Among the many issues raised, privacy is near the top, as 58 per cent of users want to see a privacy statement on the Web site before they enter any personal information.
The survey also measures consumers' readiness to provide personal information to a Web site that would use the data to customize the on-line experience. Of those surveyed, 76 per cent will divulge their hobbies and interests, 81 per cent will provide their addresses, 95 per cent will provide their e-mail addresses, and 96 per cent will supply their names.
But convenience aside, privacy is still an issue, according to Bonnie Lowell, president of Youpowered in New York and co-chair of the privacy committee of the Personalization Consortium. The survey shows 51 per cent always read the privacy statement before registering on a site. Companies need to clarify their posted material, because only 38 per cent of respondents think privacy statements are easy to understand.
Through the company's site, www.ford.ca, users are able to order directly from the manufacturer, according to Ford. Users are also able to: build their own custom vehicle; get a price; locate the vehicle by finding a dealership that has it in stock locally or find out if it is being shipped from the plant or is on the assembly line; secure the purchase with a CAN$250 credit card deposit; place a new order into Ford's production system if the car can't be found; and track the status of their order throughout the entire process. Initially, users will only be able to purchase a new Ford Focus, Windstar or Taurus, according to the company, which expects all of its stock will eventually be available on-line.
Austin, Tex.-based Trilogy Software Inc. and Ford formed a joint venture to build the site, according to David McGuffie, product development manager for Ford ConsumerConnect in Dearborn, Mich. "We used [Trilogy's] tools in order to do what I call the front-office work -- the front office being the Web site, and session management pieces. We used their configurator (software tool)...that's what you click through in order to build your vehicle."
On the back-end side, there is another partnership with a Microsoft Network property called CarPoint. "Basically what we used was a custom-built, early version of their BizTalk server," McGuffie says. "When we're throwing an order back into our legacy systems -- and there's other things, such as what the status is on your order -- all this kind of integration back into our mainframe systems is all done through XML and through these BizTalk servers."
All of the technology is housed at the company's ISP in the United States, he explains, because Ford was looking for a single global partner as opposed to having separate ones in different countries.
The dealership is still consummating the sale, McGuffie explains. After an order is placed, another tool through the CarPoint partnership is used -- a customer management Web site. All interaction with the dealership and the customer is done through this tool.
Carole Sage is a project manager in St. Catharines, Ont., and also the very first customer to purchase a car through the service -- she picked up her new Ford on June 15. She wanted to trade in her older Ford for another, and noticed an advertisement in her local newspaper for the on-line service. Sage was able to go on-line and custom-order the car she wanted, selecting from the available options. "This site was pretty [easy to navigate], with great response time. I found it saved me a lot of time."
She was also pleased with the cost calculator tool, which showed what the cost of the car was as she added and removed features during the building of the car. "On one side of the screen you're always having your total vehicle cost, and on the other side you're having your options come up," she explains. "So you can monkey around that way instead of looking at the lot and going from car to car, and having some salesman blabbing on and on." --Cindy Steinman HIGHS & LOWS MARKET WATCH Equityengine.com in June launched its Virtual Incubation Program and Line of Credit solution for Internet start-ups. Under the incubation program, Equityengine.com will extend CAN$50,000 or more in credit to qualified entrepreneurs to be used towards the incubator's on-line services.
Equityengine.com operates an Internet-based incubator community offering members equity in start-up companies in exchange for the members' ideas, time and expertise. By using their equity to obtain services from Equityengine.com's membership, start-ups can preserve cash and build their business faster, according to the incubator. Start-ups pay Equityengine.com's fees out of the credit extended to them, and if they get funding later, the line of credit is converted into equity which becomes Equityengine.com's share in the new company. For more information, visit www.equityengine.com. --Linda Stuart