Top ecommerce tips: The personalisation paradox

Top ecommerce tips: The personalisation paradox

Mark Jervis at dotdigital examines how as brands and retailers approach peak, what are the lessons we have learned in the pandemic on how to perfect personalised engagement

We now live in a world of paradoxes, where we want something and its exact opposite at the same time. A student talking on the BBC recently gave a great example; having returned from holiday, she had to quarantine but was desperate at the same time to get out and see her family, including her elderly mother who needed looking after. She described this feeing as, “I care, but I don’t care.”

And so it is in retail, where paradoxes thrive. Consumers want more contact, with each other on the High Street and in the cafes, with store staff – with anyone that makes them feel like they are still living a normal life. No one wants to do the distance dance where people skip around each other just to meet the 2m rule, but they do because they want to keep safe. So, the paradox is, they want contact but, at the same time, they want to avoid contact.

In physical retail again, this is about contactless payments, gloves at the petrol station, sanitised clingfilm over the payment terminal, one way arrows in stores, masks, screens, plastic helmets, while in online retail it’s summarised by the Amazon guy who rings the doorbell and then does a runner – the everyday minutiae of retail since March 2020. We are quickly getting used to it, but we don’t like it.

Naturally, this is what has given online retail such a boost. We couldn’t go out, everything was shut, we got bored, we had to shop, we suddenly needed all sorts of new stuff because we were stuck inside – all this contributed to a lift in online, which is about as contactless as you can get. But retailers risk losing connection with their customers and the customers are losing connection with the brands and retailers they love.

So this time the paradox is facing the retailer – how do I personalise where I have no physical contact with my customers. How do I connect with them while they are undertaking an essentially solitary journey through my brand, where I may only really understand what happened only after they have checked out. Assuming they get that far.

Our view is that, while everyone is having a philosophical discussion about the future of online personalisation using advanced sensing tools and artificial intelligence, there is already a lot retailers can do with the tools they already have to get personal.

But first it is worth understanding what it really takes to personalise. In our recent report, Hitting the Mark, we show how many retailers are adopting the tools of personalisation but not always taking the next step to make connections. For instance, 71% of global brands have bots or dedicated customer service teams manning social media channels, on-hand to answer customer queries. However, these capabilities are not always well promoted or customers have to leave the website or access social media on alternative devices to get the answers they need.

Only 33% offer live chat, which is strong growth on previous years, and provides a channel for two people to connect at whatever stage of the journey the customer needs help. But rather than waiting for the customer to connect, the retailer can personalise in other ways to support online activity.

Brands put too much reliance on the website and email when they should be personalising through other channels such as SMS and retargeting, or other owned assets such as apps. In this way brands are starting to enable conversations rather than one-way marketing. They can also enable the customer to get personal by expressing their interests through preference centres, an area where brands are still not strong; preference centres were missing in 66% of emails, a huge missed opportunity not just for immediate personalisation but longer term connection as customers share data that can be used to personalise future communications.

So, customers will share and want to share, but clearly expect something return. The baseline of course is great products at great prices and great delivery, but we are talking about recognition for loyalty. And in our research, we found customer loyalty is not being rewarded. This is less about the traditional idea of loyalty which is retailers giving away margin to get the sale, and more about retailers using the data that customers share to recognise and therefore personalise.

The solution is relatively straightforward but 64% of respondents were not sending editorial content in their marketing, to enable customers to connect more emotionally to the brand. One tactic is to offer points for interacting with your social accounts or writing reviews. 38% of shoppers want to earn credit by taking actions other than making a purchase. Similarly, when it comes to redemption options, go beyond discounts and free shipping to offer gifts, unique brand experiences, or early access to new products and sales.

Ultimately, these are easy fixes to make and will tip the personalisation paradox in your favour.

For more actionable insights on the strategies ecommerce professionals and marketers are utilising globally, and what this means for retailers and business leaders looking to build these capabilities in to their operations, download the full report: Hitting the Mark Report


by Mark Jervis

Marketing Director