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It's not just Waitrose getting clever with data

This week's big data news was about Waitrose launching their loyalty card, but re-wind a week to an announcement by fellow group brand John Lewis.

Daniel Farey-Jones: Data and Direct bulletin editor

Daniel Farey-Jones: Data and Direct bulletin editor

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On the face of it, the department store's promise of  free Wi-Fi in stores seems almost like a kindly old newsagent tolerating students grazing through the magazine rack. However, closer inspection reveals a data exchange at work.

As my colleague Matthew Chapman reports, John Lewis customers who want to use the Wi-Fi must first hand over their email address. users with a My John Lewis profile, which features their purchase history and Wish List data, find their account details automatically synched, on some mobile devices.

Possibly quite nifty if you’re a customer – and rather clever if you’re John Lewis’ marketing and buying team, which will use email addresses (if opted in) for digital marketing.

What’s interesting is how much information the brand might gather, should it deem it appropriate.

Will it know which websites individuals have visited while on the store’s connection and link that data with their email address? Or will it only see aggregate data?

A John Lewis spokesperson did not rule out either possibility: "We’ll be exploring other opportunities [than email capture]. Up until now we’ve been focusing on just being able to deliver fast access to free Wi-Fi and get that in the shops as quickly as possible."

So while Waitrose will get to see who is buying what, the other half of the John Lewis Partnership could see what their customers are browsing.

As useful as the insight might be, it must be said it’s not the only business rationale for laying out this welcome mat to the internet.

Next year John Lewis will open the first of a series of smaller format stores, which will offer all the departments from its existing stores, but without the space to house the full product line-up.

The brand is promising to "maximise the opportunity for multichannel shopping" through the smaller stores.

In July Tesco also started to trial free Wi-Fi in four of its stores, saying it would allow people to access their Clubcard account.

That trial is still going, according to a Tesco spokesperson today, who was unable to say for sure whether it involved email capture but would say that it did not include tracking online activity.

So, a certain amount of caution from the customer data pioneer, but the potential for bricks and mortar retailers like John Lewis to use their estate to sharpen up their multichannel offering is worth watching.

Follow Daniel Farey-Jones on Twitter @danfareyjones

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