Researchers have suggested that loyalty card data could help spot ovarian cancer cases earlier.
Recent results published from the Cancer Loyalty Card Study (CLOCS), led by scientists at Imperial College London, shows that over-the-counter purchases of pain and indigestion medication were higher in women who were subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Noting that the difference in consumer behavior can be observed up to 8 months before diagnosis, the researchers wrote that “facilitating earlier presentation among those who self-care for symptoms using this novel data source could improve ovarian cancer patients’ options for treatment and improve survival.”
What’s more, CLOCS is not the first instance of medical researchers pointing to loyalty card data as a potential public health or diagnostic resource.
One 2018 study used big data analytics on the loyalty card data of a national high-street retailer in England to infer sociodemographic patterns in self-medication. In turn, the researchers speculated that such a technique could be used to identify at-risk populations from their purchasing habits.
For example, the study found that men were half as likely as women to buy sun protection, a factor they argued could account for their higher rates of skin cancer.
In a similar vein, a research paper used the loyalty card data of a London-based grocery retailer to highlight the correlation between population-wide dietary information and health outcomes.
The study found that by assessing grocery store loyalty scheme data, researchers could identify areas with a high prevalence of diabetes with a 91% accuracy.
From this, they argued that digital records of grocery purchases can be used as a cheap and scalable tool for health surveillance, which could be implemented in more effective strategies for the prevention of diseases that have a distinct dietary cause.
Loyalty Schemes in the UK
Taking a step back, it seems like no coincidence that these studies all stem from the U.K.
Research has found that Brits are among the most receptive to loyalty schemes of any consumers globally. In fact, the report “What UK Consumers Expect From Their Grocery Shopping Experience,” a PYMNTS and ACI Worldwide collaboration, found that 63% of Brits use at least one grocer’s loyalty program, and 44% spend more at supermarkets that offer one.
British retailers are also more open to loyalty schemes than their American counterparts.
Another PYMNTS and ACI Worldwide study, “Big Retail’s Innovation Mandate: Convenience and Personalization,” found that 81% of U.K. merchants believe in the importance of loyalty programs, compared to just 74% of U.S. merchants.
The country’s medical research community and the general openness of businesses and consumers in the U.K. to loyalty schemes have combined to create the conditions for studies into medical applications of customer data.
Such studies point to loyalty schemes as one of the most valuable sources of information about how consumers behave that overcome many of the challenges of survey-based datasets.
Whether it’s food, medicines or some other consumption category, relying on self-reporting inevitably opens up space for inaccuracies that can inadvertently skew findings when scaled up to entire populations.
Although loyalty cards aren’t a silver bullet that can solve all data challenges medical researchers face today, the information they collect is proving to be an effective tool that adds a whole layer of value to customer data.
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