In ecommerce marketing, data security and privacy play an extremely important role. POPIA (the Protection of Personal Information Act) has been a hot topic lately. This act was finalised and put fully into action on 1 July 2021. Although just about every single business in South Africa will be affected by the act, the online retail sector and other sectors collecting and managing sensitive data such as payment details will be especially affected. Non-compliance has serious consequences. This ranges from large fines of up to R10 million to jail time of up to 10 years.

What does this mean for your ecommerce marketing strategies? More importantly, how can you ensure that your campaigns are fully compliant with POPIA?

The Role of POPIA in Ecommerce Marketing

First, let’s look at the act itself and how it applies within the ecommerce space. This act governs the collection, storage, management, and usage of data. This data can be anything from email addresses and mobile numbers to sensitive information such as addresses, credit card details, and other information. If the data collected when customers open an account at your store is not managed or used properly in accordance with POPIA, you will be at risk of the penalties we mentioned above.

What that means is that your ecommerce marketing strategies always need to be fully in line with data protection and privacy best practices. All campaigns will need to be based on full consent at every step of the way. Even if customers have consented to receive emails or other messaging before POPIA, they need to consent again. They also need to be fully aware of the act and how it will affect their choices on how you communicate with them moving forward. They should have the ability to update their preferences at any time, too.

All ecommerce marketing campaigns will need to be based on consent and trust. This makes permission-based marketing a primary focus for online stores. It can be very easy for lines to be blurred when it comes to how customer data is used. Customers may sign up for accounts, expecting to receive only information relating to their accounts. Others may be happy to receive additional campaigns on new products, sales, promotions, and other offers. Rather than assuming that customers will automatically be added to your mailing lists, you will need to make sure that they have a choice in what they want to receive.

POPIA and Ecommerce Marketing

Here’s what you can do to keep consent top of mind throughout your entire strategy.

Make opt-in a priority

This should not be an afterthought or hidden in the fine print. Customers should always have a clear choice to opt into communication. This should be standard practice on your sign-up pages, using checkboxes so that there is no ambiguity. You can also give customers a choice when they receiving their initial account confirmation emails.

These emails play an important part in building relationships. You can give customers a chance to opt into messages while also giving them some idea of what your messages offer. You could outline some of the benefits that customers can access when signing up to receive news and offers. You can outline your privacy policies clearly in the initial email, too.

Focus on empowering customers

When you outline your privacy and data protection policies and explicitly explain how data is used, you give customers the information they need to make choices. This means that you are empowering customers right from the very start.

If a customer has opened an account, the account confirmation email is usually the very first interaction they will have with your store. Giving them all the information they need in a single email and making it as easy as possible for them to choose what communication they’d like to receive is therefore key. In most cases, customers are more likely to sign up for additional offers, sales and updates when they feel that they have a choice.

Build strong relationships and trust

A major benefit of consent-driven marketing is trust. Consent is a two-way street. By empowering customers and giving them choices, you are showing them that you value the relationship. You are not treating them as a sales target but rather as an individual. Setting the foundation for such a relationship should be done as early as possible. This can be done through initial account activation and confirmation emails or on-site through sign-up pages.

Customers should always feel comfortable knowing that you are committed to protecting their privacy and will not send them any messages they do not want to receive. When you give them the choice to opt-out of communication and honour that by not sending messages, you will build trust. Many customers may then want to interact more frequently with your store and change their preferences to receive certain types of messages at a later stage.

Avoid abusing consent

Customers who have opted in to receive messages from your store will be happy to receive offers, product updates, launches, sales, and other messages. This does not mean that they will be happy to be bombarded with constant messages all the time. A very quick way to make customers unsubscribe from all of your messages is spamming them with too many messages. On any given day, the average person will receive dozens of emails. Not all of them will be opened, let alone read.

There are a few problems with sending out daily emails. The first issue is that customers will quickly get frustrated with seeing your store name in their inbox all the time. Another issue is that they may delete the message without reading it, which will often lead to emails being treated as spam by email clients. Then there is the fact that most of these messages will be generic, adding very little value. To get around these problems, start by creating personalised campaigns based on customer purchasing behaviour. Then, develop a strategy that allows you to send out relevant offers and messages at the right time. An email offering a discount on products that the customer has viewed a few times will have a far better chance of being opened than one promoting products that the customer has not purchased or shown any interest in purchasing. One highly targeted email a week will give you a much higher chance of conversion than multiple generic emails a week. This will also ensure that you do not abuse the consent and risk losing trust in the process.

Review your entire strategy

POPIA does not only apply to email and SMS campaigns. It applies to how you collect, manage, and use customer information. This means that you will need to review your entire strategy across every channel. You will need to review your current privacy policies, determine whether any information has been shared with third parties at any point, consider whether blurry areas such as retargeting and review any other potential issues that may arise from your current strategy.

Your strategy should not be reviewed once and then forgotten, either. Regular reviews, data audits, and lead generation list clean-ups are essential. You do not want to have any risk of compliance loopholes – now or further down the line. If there is anything at all that could affect your compliance, make sure that you resolve the issue now.

POPIA and Ecommerce Marketing

The good news is that POPIA may end up adding far more value than you realise. Trust is easily one of the most important factors in ecommerce. Ensuring that your customers know that you take their privacy seriously is the best way to build a long-lasting relationship based on trust and consent. This will give you ongoing results from your ecommerce marketing campaigns, year after year.

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