Whose data is it anyway?

Talk of a software providers' alliance prompts MBS Dev response.


Last month’s news story Software providers look at ‘game-changing’ alliance [OPI #221] certainly raised eyebrows in the US. Anything that impacts where vendor marketing dollars go is bound to be controversial, and Red Cheetah CEO Andrew Morgan admitted to having an “interesting” few weeks explaining the strategy to other OP stakeholders.

One company keen to respond to the story was United Stationers-owned e-commerce specialist MBS Dev which – due to its association with United – was not included in plans for a software vendor alliance. COO Paul Hesser said that MBS Dev applauded technology providers’ aspirations to provide digital marketing and merchandising capabilities to dealers. 

“MBS Dev believes that these features are critical to the long-term viability of the independent dealer channel, and we invest heavily in our e-commerce and merchandising capabilities,” he told OPI.

However, he questioned the “natural role” that technology providers play in sourcing merchandising and advertising content. “A technology provider is typically ill-equipped to have broad enough supplier relationships to make merchandising effective,” he argued. 

“Why would a dealer believe its technology partner would better select the categories and products it should sell?”

MBS’s model, he outlined, is to provide tools for dealers to construct their own marketing and merchandising programmes, or align with manufacturers and wholesalers. 

“We also provide integrated access to wholesaler merchandising content, where category managers with extensive supplier relationships can help dealers across many categories and brands.”

Hesser pointed to recent tweets from Red Cheetah in which there was acknowledgement of the value received from partnering on merchandising with United. Morgan does not dispute this, and he re-confirmed Red Cheetah’s commitment to existing long-term relationships with both national wholesalers, pointing to strong gains with United-aligned dealers on its Guided Partner Services programme.

Morgan said the alliance continues to “gain momentum”, with interested parties likely to gather in October for a meeting.

MBS Dev COO Paul Hesser on the role of technology providers:

“Dealers should be aware of where their data is going and whether it is aggregated with other dealers or stands by itself. MBS Dev believes the data and analytics related to consumer website activity and purchases belong to the dealer. Dealers should be careful about granting consent for use; how it will be used and the benefit.

“Technology providers should offer product features to enable merchandising, but selecting what and when to market should be performed by the dealer or through a wholesaler. Otherwise, the dealer runs the risk of their efforts being prioritised by suppliers who have paid fees to their technology provider.

“We applaud technology providers in enabling merchandising to help independent dealers compete and profitably grow. However, we also believe technology providers should stay out of the relationship between the dealer and the supplier, and focus on providing great technology that helps the dealer implement their initiatives.”