Picture: Backbone Company, 2016. Omnichannel. Available online here.

This post is made by Sara Nielsen Tugcu, thesis student at the IT-University of Copenhagen and associate of ETHOS Lab. Sara has researched the new marketing term ‘Omnichannel’ and wishes to start a discussion on Twitter about the ethical dimensions of this topic and of marketing in general. Read her thoughtful deliberations below and join the discussion by using #ethicalomnichannel

Ethical Challenges of Omnichannel Marketing?

Hello! My name is Sara – thank you for reading more about this!

As an outcome of my recent Master Thesis’ Project, Deconstructing Omnichannel: Data-driven Decision-Making in Retail Marketing, my findings led me to the question of whether there is enough focus on the ethical implications of the notion “omnichannel marketing”.   

I found the question of data ethics to be an only lightly elucidated topic of discussion between the various actors I studied. Rather the debate is focused on complying with the current legislation on data collection, storage and use.

But I would argue that practitioners of marketing, since being an industry aimed at the public, also have responsibility for the consequences of the work they are doing. Rather than just being practitioners of omnichannel or omnichannel research, actors should also establish awareness of what it means to be setting the agenda for coming best practices and how the future is being shaped.

Some research claims that we are far from being able to perform the kind of omnichannel marketing where all data is integrated. However as it is being pursued by many, there is a chance that it will be a reality in the near future, since the technology is in place.

We see it in the climate debate, where precautions are made to secure a better future. I believe that it would be good to have a debate within the field of omnichannel, as it should not be up to the individual, to see through and understand the complex, non-transparent downfall one’s data traces can take and the possible consequences.

So let’s discuss and learn!

What are the ethical challenges of omnichannel marketing?

I believe that the debate can both provide the corporate world with more information about how to build a good relation with their customers and for academia to have the fundament for new research areas. This is an experiment, which I hope will further our collective understanding of omnichannel marketing.  

To participate in the discussion, please use the hashtag #ethicalomnichannel  

Should you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me at satu@itu.dk.  


Sara Nielsen Tugcu   

Clarification of intent

When posing this question, I am not expressing that I am against omnichannel or practitioners. Personally I prefer to be catered to with relevant messages, but I am also concerned with what and who I have actually give my consent to, when giving up information about myself – and I do not like the idea of an un-informed “tunnel-vision” put upon me through my data traces.

About my thesis

With my thesis, I set out to research the emerging marketing term “omnichannel” to explore how this representation of data-driven decision-making is changing the relationship to the customer. I found that there is an ongoing claim stating that customers have higher expectations for companies’ communication and that this should be available when, where and how the customers want it. This constructed premise and the new technological capabilities make companies look towards an omnichannel strategy which has aspirations of “personalized” and “one-to-one” communication driven by data provided or collected, and aggregated about the customer. Rather than changing the relationship to the customer, the company’s approach and capabilities with tools and methods are what have changed.
I also found that one of the challenges for companies when collecting and using data about their customers is the fear of the relation becoming “creepy”, which could potentially decrease the loyalty towards the company.  Currently, research concerning omnichannel marketing, as suggested by the Journal of Retailing (2015), is focused on the mix and use of channels rather than potential ethical consequences. Therefore, I wish to understand the opinion of researchers and the corporate world, which is the reason for this question. I hope to spark a debate that will lead to knowledge about whether this is a topic that should be prioritized.