The majority (80%) of consumers aged 20-40 in the US and the UK believe that 'total privacy in the digital world' is a thing of the past, with nearly half (49%) saying they wouldn't object to having their buying behaviour tracked if it meant they would get more relevant offers, according to study by Accenture Interactive. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Privacy concerns aside, the survey of 2,012 consumers conducted in March and April 2014 indicated that people continue to embrace digital technology in pursuit of a good deal.

In fact, nearly two-thirds of the respondents (64%) said that when they are physically in a store, they would welcome text messages from that retailer alerting them to offers matching their buying preferences.

However, it's clear from the survey results that consumers continue to be cautious about the use of their personal information. For example:

  • The majority of respondents (87%) believe that adequate safeguards are not in place to protect their personal information.
  • 64% are concerned about websites tracking their buying behaviour (compared to 85% in the same survey in 2012).
  • More than half (56%) say they are trying to safeguard their privacy by inputting their credit card information each time they make an online purchase rather than having that data stored for future use.
  • 70% believe businesses aren't transparent about how their information is being used, and 68% say there is not enough transparency around what is being done with their information.
  • A large number of respondents (40%) believe that only 10% of their personal data is actually private.
  • Although 42% believe vendors and suppliers are using their personal data in order to provide them with more relevant offers, 39% believe their data is being sold.

So how can businesses strike the right balance in providing consumers with what they want while taking their concerns about privacy into consideration? According to Glen Hartman, global managing director of digital transformation for Accenture Interactive, "In today's digital age where consumers are connected and empowered and data is abundant, businesses must align their organisations, technology and strategies to deliver relevant and loyalty-enabling experiences to their consumers. As the business leader who typically owns the customer experience for most organisations, the chief marketing officer (CMO) should be in the driver's seat to encourage a customer-centric digital transformation that generates experiences to meet consumer needs."

The survey validates the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly demanding. Asked to rank the factors that would make them most likely to complete the purchase of a product or service, respondents' top three choices were sales and competitive pricing (61%), superior products (36%) and superior customer experience - both online and in-store (35%).

Customer loyalty programmes and relevant promotions followed, at 31% and 26%, respectively, but engaging advertising campaigns and celebrity endorsements trailed far behind, at six percent and three percent, respectively.

"Price and quality are regularly recognised as purchase drivers, but seeing that relevant and useful customer experiences trumped advertising, loyalty programmes, promotions, and endorsements in influencing purchase behaviour was a key survey finding. It should be a huge wake-up call for CMOs," said Hartman. "Businesses should align their marketing strategies using advanced analytics to drive real-time recommendations with the needs and interests of today's consumers who demand a seamless omni-channel experience whether they choose to shop online or in a store."

When pursuing a seamless customer experience, businesses must therefore balance the need for security and data privacy with the desire to provide an exceptional customer experience. And this goes beyond marketing or shopping transactions: businesses must embrace the full customer experience. The relationship with customers is defined by the experiences delivered across marketing, sales, service, online and offline, before, during and after campaigns and transactions, so it should be a continuous "engagement loop". "Unless they can provide customers with the most satisfying experience possible, companies in all industries risk losing them to a competitor who can," added Hartman.

The survey also confirmed that consumers in the 20-40 age group are almost all users of digital technology across multiple mobile platforms. Respondents own between three and four digital devices each, on average, and 27% own more than four devices. They also spend an average of over 6 hours per day using a digital device for personal activities including messaging/texting (48%), emailing (39%), getting news (27%) and shopping for a product or service online (20%).

But businesses do appear to be making a good effort to reach these customers, as nearly all respondents (90%) said they do receive notifications of upcoming promotions or new services with varying frequency, and half said these communications helped guide future purchase decisions.

However, there is also a clear pecking order among the types of communications that consumers prefer to receive from companies: Email was the top choice for 93% of respondents, followed by social media (57%) and text (44%). Only 25% of respondents said they are comfortable receiving phone calls.

"Developing a deeper understanding of the new rules of consumer engagement and building holistic engagement programmes that not only match consumer preferences but help consumers accomplish goals in real-time - whether it's contacting customer service, sharing an opinion with a friend, making a purchase online and picking up in-store, or opting in for mobile coupons," concluded Hartman. "Delivering relevant experiences based on intent will be a critical success factor for businesses in the next several years. In fact, this capability will draw a line in the sand between booming and struggling companies."