Data breaches hurt image but may not drive users away

Data breaches hurt image but may not drive users away

Survey says companies have an obligation to protect customer information

Data breaches, where stores and others confess to losing sensitive customer information because of hackers or just plain carelessness, have a strong emotional impact on consumers but don't always lead them to abandon the company as a customer.

At least that's the finding of the "2007 Data Breach vs. Brand Equity Consumer Survey," in which 406 adult consumers in the United States were asked whether they had stopped going to a particular store because the chain had thousands of customer records stolen.

Although 21.1 percent in the survey responded they had indeed stopped shopping at locales where confidential records had been stolen, 43 percent indicated they wouldn't -- a full 14.5 percent disagreeing strongly. The remaining 35.96 percent of those surveyed didn't have a firm opinion about shopping at stores with a history of losing sensitive customer information.

The results of the survey, sponsored by Tablus, are probably welcome news for retailers like TJX Companies, which earlier this year acknowledged a massive data breach. But the survey does suggest some cautionary advice: It indicates consumers are very emotional about what happens to their customer and financial data.

In the survey, well over 90 percent said they believe that companies and stores "have an obligation to protect my personal information," and "there is no excuse for a company to expose customer's confidential information."

More than 80 percent said they think companies that "have never had customer confidential information stolen are more trustworthy than those that have lost that information." Ninety-five percent believe protecting customers from risks associated with a data breach should be considered "the highest priority to companies." About 75 percent of the survey respondents said they wouldn't buy stock in companies where records had been stolen.

More than 42 percent of the respondents said there were stores they had "lost trust in because I've heard that they lost customers' credit card numbers or other sensitive private information," though 33 percent lacked a firm opinion on that subject and the remainder disagreed.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents said that "when a company loses their customers' sensitive personal information, I lose respect for that business," and 89 percent said they "don't trust companies that can't provide protection for my confidential information."

However, with 43 percent of the those surveyed still willing to shop at a store that has lost thousands of customers records, it suggests that brand loyalty sometimes trumps loss of respect in the minds of consumers.

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