The importance of privacy in keeping track of the latest fashion

Online shopping may be convenient, but customers always run the risk of buying clothes sight unseen. As a result, many of us will have unworn purchases hanging in our wardrobes, often with the tags still attached.

Fashion label Tommy Hilfiger believes it may have found a way of addressing this, by incentivising its customers to wear their latest purchases. Its new clothing line, Tommy Jeans Xplore, contains smart-chip technology capable of tracking how often the items are worn, which allows the brand to offer customers rewards such as gift certificates and concert tickets if they wear items often enough.

Using this technology to collect rich and accurate information on the location and habits of its customer is a smart move on the part of Tommy Hilfiger, which can use the data to inform its ongoing sales and marketing operations. The long-term consumer benefits are yet unclear, though, and questions linger over the issue of consumer privacy.

Regulations and requirements

Tommy Hilfiger’s spokespeople are keen to stress the security of the tracking technology, stating that any data collected will be encrypted, making it unusable to anyone who might access it without permission, and that the chip itself can be turned off at any time. While this may be encouraging news, however, there are still concerns around data privacy that must be addressed.

The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) earlier this year means that brands must comply with a raft of requirements around the collection and handling of consumer data. For example shoppers must be told exactly how the data will be collected, how it will be stored, how it will be used, and whether it will be shared with any third parties. They must also be provided with certain rights such as the right to request access to the data collected about then, to have it corrected or deleted.

GDPR also likely requires that consumers’ provide their consent for Tommy Hilfiger to collect and use the data generated from wearing their clothes. Privacy is rarely a concern when purchasing fashion, though, and few of us will read terms and conditions, consent requests or privacy policies when buying a new outfit, so it’s unlikely that most customers will know exactly what they’ve signed up for, or the implications for their personal data.

For Tommy Hilfiger to comply with GDPR, it’s imperative that the brand clearly and carefully explains what data is collected, when it’s collected, and how. This is even more challenging given that consumers may forget that they are wearing technology and so it may be that periodic reminders are useful in this context. But there is a risk that doing so could prove off-putting to potential customers. A compromise must therefore be found that allows the brand to meet its legal obligations, whilst managing to remain appealing to consumers.

Future fashion

Other fashion brands will be closely watching Tommy Hilfiger’s initiative and, if it’s seen to be successful, are likely to follow suit. If so, the potential exists for this collected data to become increasingly invaluable, as more brands analyse patterns in consumer behaviour in order to offer a more personalised experience.

At a basic level, this could involve increasing the number and value of rewards, such as brand discounts, which a customer receives depending on how often they wear a particular item of clothing. Over time, brands may start offering different prices for an item depending on the level of affluence of the area in which a customer’s movements are predominantly tracked, or based on whether or not they have made a purchase when visiting the brand’s store.

‘Wearable tech’ currently refers to smart watches and fitness trackers although, if Tommy Hilfiger’s latest collection is a success, and other brands launch similar initiatives, the phrase could soon take on a whole new meaning. This technology can only add value to a brand if it’s designed and implemented with data privacy laws in mind, however.

The fashion industry may be a pioneer in the innovative use of technology but it must not overlook the importance of data privacy and consent. Failure to pay these areas the attention they deserve can result in significant damage to a brand’s reputation and, if penalised under the GDPR, its bottom line.