The Legal Cost of Personalised Shopping

Drone deliveries, self-lacing sneakers, digital mirrors, shoes that help you feel the virtual reality world you’re walking in – welcome to 2017. These were some of the highlights at the Consumers Electronic Show (CES) 2017 in Las Vegas. Advances in consumer technology are transforming our lives. Many retail companies realising the importance of technology are now positioning themselves as ‘technology first companies’. The Chairman and CEO of Uniqlo, for example, has described the clothing brand as a “technology company”.

We look at some of the AI technology that retailers and brands are using and the importance of protecting consumer data.

AI Voice Assistance

“Alexa, please add salad dressing to my shopping list and order me a taxi”. Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s Siri – voice activated smart home devices are transforming consumers’ lives. All of these devices use a voice recognition AI system. Amazon’s Echo, for instance, uses the Amazon-owned ‘Alexa’ online data analytics and voice recognition. This technology can learn from user behaviour and improve over time. If a user voices a question which is misunderstood by Alexa, the user can enter the app and edit the question. Alexa learns from this and applies the customised approach across its user interfaces. This technology has huge potential to transform the nature of omni-channel commerce by providing a new channel through which retailers can engage with consumers. Retailers who employ such technology will have to ensure (among other things) that they are transparent with consumers as to what data they are collecting and how such data is being used. Such information should be documented and made available on request – in the event of a data breach or a compliance complaint, for example. From May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will apply. Failure to document such information could result in a number of sanctions from the UK Data Protection Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), ranging from a warning to a fine of up to €20,000,000 or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4% of the worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.


“How would you describe your style?” “Classic”. “Perf! I’ve just created a customer style profile for you”. Chatbot technology is powered by artificial intelligence which is specifically designed to replicate human interaction. Consumers are able to use chatbots to make enquiries about delivery and returns, make product choices; and place and order. Throughout 2016, retail brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry and eBay all launched their own chatbot technology to promote sales and boost engagement. Other brands like H&M and Sephora are now using Kik’s new Bot Shop marketplace. Users who chat with the H&M bot can tell the bot a piece of clothing they like, and the bot will suggest an entire outfit and direct the user to buy the outfit through the messaging platform. Chatbots enable retailers and brands to engage with a younger generation and offer users a personalised customer experience. Retailers should inform consumers before they make an order that their statutory right to cancel within fourteen days of receiving a product does not apply to any products made to their specification or clearly personalised. Further, under the Consumer Contract Regulations 2014, retailers should also note that any payment order buttons in a chatbot message are clear and unambiguous as to the finality of the order thereby being made. ‘Order Now’ is not considered sufficient by the Directorate-General for Justice Guidance and could result in the consumer not being bound by the order. Wording such as ‘Pay Now’, ‘Buy Now’ and ‘Confirm Purchase’ on the other hand, would be sufficient.

Smart mirrors

“Does my bum look big in this?” Many brands have been experimenting with smart mirrors to enhance consumer experience. These mirrors use RFID technology to recognise the item the customer is wearing. The mirrors then take photographs of the consumer to provide recommendations on the fit and the colour. Ralph Lauren’s smart fitting room at its flagship on Fifth Avenue also suggests other products the consumer might like based on what it bought. In Uniqlo’s store in San Francisco you can see what your outfit looks like at all angles and text yourself side by side outfit comparisons which you can send to your friends on social media for their advice. This technology has resulted in an increase of sales and offers consumers a unique experience tailored to the brand.

How much data is being collected?

In 2013, Céline’s creative director and designer Pheobe Philo told UK Vogue: “The chicest thing is when you don’t exist on Google. God, I would love to be that person”. Privacy has become a luxury and consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about how their data is being used and the impact this may have on their privacy. From a consumer perspective, you may exchange your location settings in order to get a better service but it does not mean that you want the data to be seen by others.

From May 2018, brands which manufacture and develop these products will have an obligation to consider the concepts of privacy by ‘design’ and ‘default’ at the initial design stage as well as throughout the lifecycle of the relevant data processing. Brands will need to exercise caution and invest in their infrastructure to protect consumers’ data from data breaches and cyberattacks. It would be advisable to implement a privacy impact assessment to demonstrate that appropriate technical and organisational measures have been implemented; and that compliance is monitored. Any standard contracts with data processors should also be reviewed and revised to set out how liability is apportioned between the parties and that only personal data which are necessary for the specified purpose are processed. As stated above, failure to carry out such measures could result in significant fines.

For further information please contact:

Simon Halberstam, Partner and Head of the Technology Law Group


DDI: 020 3206 2781