In the world of ecommerce it’s perhaps a dangerous thing and quite unusual to call on retailers to rein in their dreams. Danny Deutz at Astound Commerce asks just how realistic is the goal of totally personalised, one-to-one marketing.
When you consider how much online retail has grown in the last decade, and continues to do so, with industry bodies suggesting another 10% year-on-year sales hike is expected in 2018, it somewhat goes against the grain to spread words of caution. Nothing is impossible, it would seem.
But when it comes to the idea of the industry’s much-lauded move towards personalisation of services and one-to-one marketing, there’s a reality check for the industry: communication between brand and shopper can only go so far.
Everyone in retail, it appears, is pretending to do personalisation or is on a journey towards it, but the reality is they will only be able to reach a certain level of customisation. True personalisation only comes when you’re talking to a person face to face, you go down to the pub regularly with them, and you get to know someone inside out – it’s an innately human-bonding thing.
Nothing can truly replace this type of conversation when it comes to personalised experiences – and, what’s more, people’s wants, needs and desires change on such a constant basis that retailers will be forever chasing their tails if they strive to achieve complete 1-2-1 marketing credentials.
Ruling out the impossible dream
Tools and technology for personalisation make assumptions about knowing people based on limited information. Yes, many of those available on the market will help segment customer data, or understand their previous purchase history and market to them accordingly, or help reach an audience at the most relevant time.
But the way some technology firms speak you’d think implementation of their software is going to lead to customers visiting retailers’ homes and sitting down for Christmas dinner and a good chinwag. It’s often presenting a utopian vision.
Ultimate personalisation arguably means a retailer welcomes a customer by name at every digital interaction point, presents relevant products online all the time, knows when best to contact them, and delivers the exact size of garment they need for a specific occasion before the shopper even knows they need it themselves. Over and over again.
One obvious barrier to this, however, is that it’s not possible to get there by sheer behaviour tracking because who we are online is different to who we are as people. One doesn’t typically present their true self on social media and online, meaning the technology effectively can only make broad claims of personal interaction.
Top tips for personalisation success
Of course, that’s not to say one can’t appreciate the direction the industry is going in terms of using technology to get to know customers better – it can only be a good thing and more relevant and delightful for everyone involved if some of the uncertainty and guesswork is taken out of ecommerce.
It’s just the utopian vision of one-to-one marketing doesn’t exist, and, right now, can’t exist. And there’s lots of pretending within the industry that it does.
Perhaps a more ideal approach to personalisation for retailers is to methodically map out what it is they are trying to achieve, understand where they can get a little closer to their customers, and work towards making those incremental gains.
And be careful about statistics announced by technology companies, including those involved in selling personalisation software – the uplifts reported can be seriously skewed. As ever, in the case of statistics, big percentage increases can be created by manipulating the data, taking a convenient time frame or using a case study where the starting point was low.
A personalisation company that delivers the goods doesn’t need to shout about statistics and show off. The best companies are partners that work with a retailer as part of a measured, all-encompassing strategy.
Personalisation across sales channels
Some retailers have gone to great lengths to identify people who purchase in-store through Wi-Fi login, payment details and more commonly, loyalty cards. All this, to get to know customers’ shopping habits better – this is great but using this data in a meaningful way is far from straight forward and like any form of personalisation, doing this badly can easily lead to dissatisfaction.
Fundamentally, it all boils down to the customer experience. Is the experience online and in-store a pleasant one or a chore that people must go through to get what they want? Does the customer feel valued for spending money with a specific retailer or are they just seen as another credit card number?
Hackett is a prime example of a brand that has thought about how to provide a pleasant experience to its customers by adding a gin bar to its London Regent Street store and creating an interaction point with customers that opens a whole range of opportunities.
Sometimes all it takes is a cup of coffee (or in this case the availability of gin) and a sit down with a sales assistant who can provide advice and technology driven, personalised product recommendations to turn a stressful experience into a pleasant one.
The cost? 50p. The result? A happy customer who will come back to the store and tell all their friends about how great and different that experience was.
By Danny Deutz