City signs on with consumer data firm

The city will pay for information on buying habits of area residents in an effort to attract retailers to the area and keep shoppers here.

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WALLA WALLA -- A newly signed contract with a marketing firm could help boost the city's chances in attracting new retailers.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved a fast-tracked $35,000 contract with a company that specializes in local consumer buying habits.

City officials hope to use the information to bring in more retailers and keep Walla Walla residents spending more money in town instead of the Tri-Cities.

The reason for adding the last-minute item on the Wednesday night agenda -- City Council had just heard the proposal two days before at a work session -- was to allow city officials to use the newly acquired data at a national convention of retailers this May.

But not all Council members were sold on the idea of buying info on what their constituents are buying.

"I don't like the idea of having that information available and easily accessible by whoever can pay for it for the sake of the individuals," Council member Barbara Clark said, who cast the one dissenting vote.

The contract with Buxton Company -- whose slogan is "identifying customers" -- was approved 4-1, with Council Members Shane Laib and Dave Plucker absent.

Buxton representative Lisa Hill said her company doesn't provide names but only numbers, and that information is compiled from a number of sources, including credit card and reward card purchasing records.

Hill said the company boasts a number of national retail clients and municipalities, including the city of Kennewick.

"What we are looking for is the complexion of consumers that are similar types and how that similar type is driving the market," Hill said, adding the information on Walla Walla consumers is already being compiled and provided to researchers.

"We get the reward card so we get the savings, but what we give up is information on what we are buying," Hill said.

"It (Buxton data) shows that your citizens are already shopping and they are going to these (Tri-Cities) stores and they are buying certain things. If they were going to local stores you would keep that revenue. And that funds police, that funds fire. ..." Hill said.

City officials hope to use the Buxton data this May at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas, which was the reason given for fast-tracking the item to the Wednesday night agenda.

At Monday's work session, Mayor Jim Barrow had also expressed concerns over what he considered "big brother" marketing tactics.

Prior to voting his approval, Barrow said he felt the data could be used to help city staff develop economic marketing strategies and help with the current Council priority to bring in more retailers.

"The reality is this information is already collected, it already exists. Everything that we go shopping and use a credit card or on the internet ... the information is available and (using) it seems certainly consistent with our own high priority with our Council," Barrow said.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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