Jose Gomes, head of North America at consumer data science company Dunnhumby, discusses why retailers need to listen to their customers and how the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook situation and Europe’s new data privacy law could change the industry. (Ally Mariotti/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Consumer data: Helping stores know their customers

The world of commerce is increasingly built on customer data, and for some retailers, it’s adapt or die.

Jose Gomes, managing director of North America for U.K.-based consumer data science company Dunnhumby, is there to help companies succeed in that new reality. Originally from Portugal, Gomes has worked in the U.K. and headed operations in Africa and Latin America. Now based in Dunnhumby’s North American headquarters in Merchandise Mart, in Chicago, he’s responsible for all the business and clients in the region.

As companies increasingly rely on analytics and big data has become a more popular tool, Gomes said it’s gotten easier to explain what it is that he does for a living.

Q: How dependent on customer data are retailers these days?

A: Retailers aren’t even fighting with retailers anymore; they’re fighting with all of these different startups; so from our perspective you have this landscape in the U.S. that is just the most competitive in the world. If you don’t have a really solid understanding of what’s important for your customers and they’re not at the heart of the decisions that you’re making, we think that’s an impossible battle.

Q: Where does Dunnhumby get the consumer data it analyzes?

A: Predominantly the data that we get comes from our clients, so retailers and others. There’s all sorts of data. There’s behavioral, like what are people doing, whether that’s sales data, loyalty card data; a lot of research data, so to get from what people do and join to what they also feel and think.

Q: Who are some of Dunnhumby’s clients?

A: Family Dollar, Ace Hardware, Meijer, Sprouts (Farmers Market), Macy’s, Raley’s (Supermarkets in Northern California), Weis Markets.

Q: What has changed in your industry since people learned that Cambridge Analytica accessed the private information of millions of Facebook users?

A: Although there were some people deleting their Facebook accounts, it certainly wasn’t anything done at a scale that really changed the industry. The benefits these platforms are giving to consumers at the moment seem to outweigh people’s concerns. What we’re telling our partners is, “You shouldn’t be concerned about this. It should just spur you to be more transparent and ensure that you’re using people’s data to improve their experiences.”

Q: Do you expect the European Union’s sweeping new data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, to change anything?

A: It definitely feels like GDPR and regulation is something that needs to happen, if nothing else to be the protection for the people that don’t stop to think about it. From our perspective, we’ve always told our partners the same thing, which is, “If what you’re doing was on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, would you be embarrassed? If you were, then you shouldn’t be doing that.”

Q: Does working in this industry cause some irritation during personal shopping trips?

A: I annoy my wife because whenever we go on holiday, going into supermarkets and just working out how people shop in that place — like what they put together or what they eat for breakfast — that’s one of the things I always find is fun. And she finds it less fun, unsurprisingly.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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