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NEW REPORT: Retailers Have Long Used Consumer Data to Stay Competitive


WASHINGTON—Today, NetChoice released “Know Your Customer: How Retailers Have Used Data Throughout History”, showing that over the last century, retailers have consistently used consumer data to deliver the best services they can to customers and beat their competition. 

Amid various economic and technological advances since the early 1900s, data analytics have long been a core component of retailer business models. Prior to today’s online data practices, more imposing techniques were common, such as employees’ in-store observations of shoppers, surveys and scanner data. Such tools have aided companies in predicting demand, understanding consumer behaviors, improving operations, enhancing customer experiences and adjusting inventories to consumer needs.

Currently, 84% of retailers with a market cap of $1 billion or more (including businesses such as: Costco, Home Depot, Amazon, Walmart, Albertsons, Ulta and Dollar General) use consumer data to improve the overall customer experience.

“NetChoice’s new report shows how consumer data has always been a tool businesses use to successfully compete and deliver for customers,” said NetChoice Director of Public Affairs, Robert Winterton. “It is critical that policymakers understand the history and practices highlighted in this report before implementing rules that may undermine competition and consumer options in retail.”

You can read “Know Your Customer: How Retailers Have Used Data Throughout History” from NetChoice’s Retail is Everywhere project here and a short summary here


  • Data analytics have been commonplace throughout the history of retail. For at least the last 100 years, these insights helped retailers understand demand and consumer behaviors, improve operations, enhance customer experiences, and align offerings with customer needs.
  • Regardless of technological eras or methods, all retailers have used data to increase customer service, enhance operational efficiency, and improve profit margins.
  • In the past, retailers used more intrusive methods, such as in-store observation and surveys, to understand shopping habits. Later, Big Box retailers like Walmart used scanner data to anticipate demand, expand product categories, and enhance consumer convenience and satisfaction.
  • In the modern era, technological advancements and new data sources have enabled retailers to advance operations through innovative practices, enhanced customer experiences with reduced search time, and personalized product recommendations. 
  • Data-driven insights into diverse consumer preferences have led to the proliferation of niche products and private labels, improving consumer welfare by offering tailored products at competitive prices.
  • Modern consumer data analysis has ignited competition. Retailers now compete not only for customers, but also for brands to use their digital advertising services.
  • Given the significant improvements in customer experiences, consumers now expect retailers to possess the necessary information to provide seamless and enjoyable shopping.
  • As in the past, retailers today commonly utilize customer data to inform their business decisions and elevate the customer experience. Our analysis of the latest annual reports for retailers with a market cap of $1 billion or more revealed that 84% of them mentioned leveraging customer data to improve the overall customer experience.