User studies are not novel, but the magnitude to which consumers are tested is new. This testing is about to grow exponentially with the Internet of Things connecting products other than smartphones and notebooks online. One question comes to mind, whether there will be a moment in the future when you are actually observed 24/7.
First of all, our online behaviour is subjected to near constant observation. Split testing of websites is widespread among companies. Bart Schutz, Chief Inspirational Officer at Online Dialogue, states in an episode of VPRO Tegenlicht: “The chance is huge that you are part of an experiment if you go online now. Banks, insurance companies, ecommerce stores; they are all testing’. We participate in many experiments, one after the other, which makes for experiments featuring ‘hundreds of billions of people’, according to Schutz.
Split testing allows marketers to bypass customer surveys, and directly observe purchasing habits. These results are more accurate than surveys where people might not be honest, or are unaware of their reasons for choosing a product over another similar item. Pepijn Rijvers, Chief Marketing Officer at Booking.com explained to VPRO Tegenlicht that all their website pages are constantly being tested. “Some changes are so small you wouldn’t even notice it, like a button with or without a white border.”
You are unable to decline data collection when you visit a website
Of course, there are very practical reasons for implementing data studies that benefit both companies and customers. Supply chains can be much more effective in getting the right amount of products to the store, for example. Perishable products like flowers used to be very tricky to deliver on time, but analysing data can tremendously cut down on the waste created by decaying roses and tulips.
The downside to online testing is the lack of actively gathering consent. In the days of telesales, you could decline a survey when the phone rang during dinner time. Nowadays, you have to locate the privacy statement on a website to find out if data is being collected at all. And even if you take the time to familiarize yourself with the privacy policies of every website you visit, often there is no alternative offered. Many services are only available online. Even banks, travel agencies and telecommunication providers predominantly have switched to online service delivery.
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