How Much Is Your Private Data worth to Coles and Woolworths Through Their Loyalty Programs

Coles and Woolworths are notorious for collecting data on their customer's shopping habits, but you would have thought that this data would have at least stayed within Australia. Wrong. Some of that data is being sent as far as South Africa and the Philippines. The main culprits for collecting data is Coles’ Flybuys and Woolworth’s Rewards programs which recently have been cautioned for sending shopper's information abroad, discovered by Australia’s privacy watchdog.

You’ll be happy to hear though that the privacy check ups didn’t reveal mishandling of customer data, but we all know the saying “nothing in life is free”. If this comes as a shock, perhaps you didn’t read the privacy policies because both Coles’ and Woolies’ programs make their data sharing practices clear in accordance with the Privacy Act. What I wanted to find out though, was how exactly are these companies using our data?


Customer LoyaltyThe reason Coles sends information so far abroad is because they outsource certain functions to companies that are situated in the Philippines, South Africa and the United States. Woolworths have a similar set up where they have a contact centre in New Zealand and a cloud based service located in the USA.

It’s promising to see that such large organisations are adhering to their own privacy policies and practices, but it’s still important that all Australians understand the underlying terms of any discounts or rewards we're getting from the supermarket giants in order to use their loyalty programs. As I mentioned before, nothing is for free and free flights certainly do not exist so it begs the question, how much value do the supermarkets place place on our personal information that we give via their loyalty programs?


It’s the same scenario as Facebook basically where large corporations make millions and millions from our personal information, yet we never see a cent of that money. They would argue that this information individually holds no real value, but when combined in mass and merged together the retailers can paint a picture of who we are as a customer base, what we do and how we like to behave.

Numerous customer loyalty programsStop for a minute and ask yourself, how many loyalty cards do I currently own? Whilst there may be one card from Coles or Woolies, there may be a few more from less reputable companies who don’t necessarily adhere to best practices when it comes to dealing with your data. Have you ever noticed that after signing up to a particular offer or loyalty program there's a sudden influx of promotional emails? That’s the company selling your email address to marketing companies for a profit. Even companies as large as Nintendo (who have just launched Pokemon GO) are receiving criticism over their privacy policy with some users claiming that the app can read their emails.

Those of you who have no idea what the ins-and-outs of Coles' and Woolies' privacy policies are, but prefer to avoid having to read through them all, below is a brief digest of that information.


How Coles Uses your Data

  • Primarily used to conduct targeted marketing campaigns to loyalty members. Their software analyses buying patterns and delivers relevant campaigns.
  • Only one team within the Flybuys division has access to identifiable personal information.
  • A data analytics team conducts separate work on the Flybuys systems with the ability to only view member numbers, transactional data and point’s balance.
  • The Flybuy team conducts analytics on behalf of partner entities to avoid sending repeated offers, but they do not build a profile about individual customers.
  • Certain Flybuy activities are outsourced to companies in the Philippines and United States.


How Woolworths Uses our Data

  • Primarily used to understand and analyse buying behaviour to determine which offers are most relevant to which members.
  • All data is stored in central systems that are managed by Woolworths. Only a limited number of people within Woolworths Rewards have access to the data.
  • Analytics consist of un-identified data, but information such as basket contents, store location, time, date, register number and any offers used are included.
  • Quantium receive certain bits of data and they use customer reference numbers that cannot be linked to an individual’s personal information.
  • A contact centre based in New Zealand is used as part of the company’s overseas operations, whilst a cloud service from the USA is used as well.



[FYI - list of current active Woolworths deals on Buckscoop]

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