Retail group spells out privacy for customers

Video and Web tools used to explain rights as CEO expects new laws

In a video, Jeff Wyler tells customers how they can decline to have shopping behavior tracked, but he also explains how stores use the data.

Jeff Wyler, CEO of the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family in Cincinnati, is convinced that dealerships soon will be subject to stricter privacy laws.

So he and his staff are going to extra lengths to inform customers of their rights and explain how the group's 13 dealerships gather and use data.

For example, Wyler, 73, earlier this year made a video that explains how customers can opt out of e-mails or decline to have their shopping behavior tracked through tiny bits of software code called cookies that can follow a Web site visitor to other sites.

The group also is in the process of building its Web sites with a prominent consumer privacy button so customers can conveniently get an explanation of their rights without having to search for small print at the bottom of the page.

"Our philosophy for the past 40 years has been to be transparent and fair with customers," Wyler said.

Getting out front

With stricter privacy laws already percolating in California, Canada and the European Union, Wyler said it's only a matter of time before the customers of his 13 stores and 44 franchises in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are affected.

"This is coming down the highway," he said.

Kevin Frye, Jeff Wyler's e-commerce director, spent nearly four months researching how regulators are pushing rules that require businesses to inform shoppers that they are being tracked online -- and if and when that data is being shared with third parties.

In January, California strengthened its privacy laws to require commercial Web sites to disclose to visitors whether the sites are tracking personal information and whether third parties with site access can view that information, Frye said.

Draft rules in Europe would require companies collecting data to notify targets and get their consent before sharing the data, he said.

And in July, Canada's so-called anti-spam legislation goes into effect that warns of penalties of up to $10 million for organizations that ignore the desires of recipients regarding e-mails, texts and other electronic communications.

Frye shared his findings last month at the Digital Dealer Conference & Exposition in Atlantic City, N.J.

Wyler said his group stands to be a big target, so he is informing customers now. The group ranks No. 43 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups, based on 2013 new-vehicle retail sales units. It sold 30,000 new and used cars last year.

Customizing content

Wyler leaves no doubt in the video and online that customers leave tracks every time they visit a Web site and that they have a right to opt out of that tracking.

But he also explains why stores do the tracking: to see shopping patterns and to customize what products are served to individuals when they visit online.

Wyler said he has always tried to stay on the edge of trends. He was an early adopter 25 years ago of centralizing the group's accounting offices to a single location. He also has emphasized employee training and recruitment.

Wyler was a natural to star in the privacy video. He has been the face of the company in commercials since he bought his first store 40 years ago. His son David Wyler now does about half the TV spots, he said.

With Jeff Wyler narrating the privacy video, it is clear that company leadership believes the issue is important to customers.

"We are focused on providing a good buying experience," Wyler said. "We don't want privacy to be a barrier."

You can reach David Barkholz at -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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