What did you spend on cheese this year? Shoppers get to see their own buying data

Finnish retailer S-Group opens up its data analytics so customers can see what they spend by product type.

Lots of retailers use big data to build relationships with customers. But Finnish retail giant S-Group has taken things a step further by giving individual shoppers access to detailed information on their own buying habits.

Rather than just profile and then target customers with specific online and in-store promotions, S-Group has adopted a more open approach and created a platform for customers to access and analyze their personal purchase histories.

Called Omatostot, or My Shopping, the online service is accessible to any of the 80 percent of Finnish households that hold a loyalty card with the retailer.

Instead of merely providing a record of virtual receipts, Omatostot organizes past purchases across hundreds of product categories, allowing the curious consumer to see, for example, how much he or she spends on cheese, vegetables or even protein shakes.

In its first week of operation this month, Omatostot has already been used by almost 40,000 customers. According to Pekka Malmirae, chief customer officer of SOK Media, the corporate arm of S-Group, that's more interest than many of S-Group's other digital services have garnered in their first year.

SEE: Special report: Data, AI, IoT: The future of retail (free PDF)

Such engagement shows the appeal of big data when it is presented to consumers in a flexible and easily digestible form. It allows some shoppers to reduce their weekly expenditure, others to eat more healthily, and still others to cut back on food waste, Malmirae tells ZDNet

But he acknowledges that the service benefits the company as well as the shopper.

"By committing to open data, we want to build transparency and trust between us and our customers, and dispel the mystery attached to it," he says.

Malmirae also sees Omatostot as offering a competitive advantage in an increasingly international marketplace, since it encourages customers to concentrate their shopping in S-Group's stores to get a more comprehensive record of their consumption habits.

While Omatostot may be innovative, its current success and future potential come down to two factors. The first is the oligopolistic nature of the Finnish grocery market: in a population of 5.54 million, S-Group and its main rival Kesko have, respectively, 3.7 and 3.6 million loyalty cards, so there's an enormous potential user base for the service.

The second factor is the cooperative business model of S-Group. Every loyalty-card holder is a member of the co-op and receives a certain percentage of money back according to how much they spend. S-Group's commitment to open data reflects its cooperative ethos, allowing all members to tailor Omatostot to their own priorities.

In fact, the idea for the service has its roots in the MyData community, a loose global collective advocating increased transparency in how people's data is collected and used.

According to Kai Kuikkaniemi, a core member of MyData and development manager of SOK, Omatostot aligns with the objectives of the community, with S-Group having been involved with the Finnish arm of MyData from the very beginning.

There are plans to develop and personalize Omatostot further over the coming months, such as by allowing individuals to set consumption targets for themselves and their families.

For now, though, with the backing of interest groups and the approval of customers, Omatostot appears to be a positive example of how a retailer can build consumer confidence in a digitalized marketplace where opaqueness often provokes suspicion.

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