By Dhanya Skariachan
NEW YORK, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Welcome to the era of the candid consumer.
From their food allergies to home addresses, shoppers around the world are becoming increasingly willing to share more personal information with their favorite merchants, as they look for a more personalized and efficient shopping experience, an IBM survey of more than 28,000 people in 15 countries showed.
That is good news for retailers on both sides of the Atlantic as they look for ways to target the right demographic of shoppers with new products.
"They are willing to share information if there is perceived benefit," said Jill Puleri, global retail leader of IBM's global business services. "It doesn't have to be monetary benefit."
While consumers around the world still have reservations about sharing financial details such as how much they earn, they are less worried about divulging other private information.
For instance, about three-quarters of the people surveyed were willing to dish out details about their media usage such as the TV shows they watch, while 73 percent of the group were fine with disclosing demographic information such as their ethnicity.
About 61 percent of people were comfortable sharing their names and addresses with retailers, while about 59 percent of those surveyed said they were OK with disclosing lifestyle-related information such as whether they owned more than one car, or had moved into a new home, or had a child recently.
"These are things that I think are pretty important to a retailer," Puleri said, adding that the change in shopper behavior was phenomenal.
"We have always thought the consumer was pretty guarded with their information," Puleri told Reuters.
More than half of the people surveyed were even willing to disclose their exact location and related information, hoping for a more targeted and smarter shopping experience.
"What it tells us is that they really want a personal experience," she said. "They don't want to find advertising in their mailbox or in their email about things they are never going to buy."
Shoppers in emerging markets such as Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, South Africa and China were more willing to share private information versus their counterparts in mature markets such as Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada and the United States, Puleri said.
One finding that binds shoppers around the globe is their love for a good bargain. About 53 percent of consumers said they actively seek out items on sale, but this is not limited to mature markets. Sixty-nine percent of Brazilians who participated in the survey also said they chased sale items.
"We are still seeing that frugality continue," Puleri said.
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Contrary to popular perception, shoppers said they are keen to receive more communication from merchants, the survey showed. That indicates many retailers have not been reaching out to their real target audience, Puleri said.
Shoppers also want information from merchants delivered through channels relevant to them.
For example, fewer shoppers rely on email to find out about new products. Meanwhile, 85 percent of consumers believe social networks will save them time, Puleri said.
Retailers should pay more attention to "noise on the wire" to understand better how their brands are perceived by the public, IBM's Puleri said.
For example, discussions around some brands focus predominantly on price, availability, where to purchase, etc, indicating that these brands are highly price-sensitive.
On the other hand, discussions around other brands are focused on terms such as "self-improvement" and style, indicating that these brands are less price-sensitive.
With these insights, retailers selling brands with more price sensitivity should focus their marketing around promotions and sales, while the others could adopt a different approach, she said.
While more private information from shoppers will surely help retailers understand their target audience better, the rapid influx of digital data also poses new challenges.
A recent IBM study of more than 1,700 chief marketing officers from 64 countries showed that a vast majority of them recognize a critical and permanent shift occurring in the way they engage with their customers, but question whether their marketing units are prepared to manage the change.
"There is a ton of experimenting going on, but there is not a lot of perfection," Puleri said, urging retailers to get their act together fast. (Editing by Dale Hudson)