Content and context must drive personalization in retail

Here’s an insight into me: I’m not the same person I was yesterday. I’m not hugely different but in subtle little ways I am. Feeling recharged after a family vacation, I’m happy and a bit more optimistic about things. It influences how I react and interact with the people I meet, the people I work with and the world around me. The decisions I make today may not be the ones I’d have made yesterday. So how is a retailer to personalize my shopping experience when no two days are exactly the same?

That’s the question I asked myself when I read a Bloomberg article on ‘Smart Mirrors’. Smart Mirrors sit within the dressing room and give you tips on accessories or alternatives to what you’re currently trying on. They sit alongside beacon technology and digital shelf-edge display technology as tools to deliver a highly targeted, highly personal in-store experience. But, if you’re like me, sometimes you’ll wonder at the miracles of technology that can be so good and at other times you’ll find them unnecessary and intrusive. It may even damage your perception of the brand.

Personalization is key. But what is it?

In a previous blog I wrote about omnichannel retail and personalization ranks alongside it as the most important trend in retail. The question is not whether to customize and enrich the customer experience, it’s how best to do it.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, brands that integrate advanced digital technologies and proprietary data to create personalized experiences for customers are seeing revenue increase by 6% to 10%. That’s two to three times faster than those that don’t. Yet the TimeTrade State of Retail 2017 report found that US retail stores were missing out on $150 billion through a lack of in-store personalization.

So what form should this personalization take? Companies have invested heavily in the ability to create and deliver customer loyalty schemes and targeted offers. Yet, research from HSO found that 40% of shoppers become irritated by targeted offers and only 7% choose to take advantage of these personalized deals.

HSO suggests that retailers are currently out of touch with consumer expectations with 59% of research respondents expecting retailers to use technology to gain an all-round view of their spending habits. While this is true, the rush to technology may be part of the issue that’s led to the under-performance HSO records.

Good customer service, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It can start from something as simple as the store employee either saying ‘Peanut butter? Aisle 8’ or ‘You’re looking for peanut butter? It’s in Aisle 8. I’ll take you’. Customers want their retailer to be as knowledgeable about their own products and services as they are about them. Either online or offline, customers want tailor made services that ties these two things seamlessly together. HSO suggests that 41% of US shoppers are willing to pay extra for this type of service.

Personalization lies beyond preference

Customer loyalty schemes have always been a major tool for gathering the data to allow for increased personalization. However, customers are less and less happy to share their personal data. In fact, Retail Dive’s Consumer Survey found that 57% of consumers are unwilling to share data in exchange for discounts and benefits.

Addressing this, retail organizations are using customer behaviors and advanced algorithms to gain the data and create personalized messaging and the time and channel of delivery. But, this is not the tailor made experience consumers are looking for from personalization. I guess everyone has experienced searching for a product or service online and subsequently being flooded with ads for that and similar products the next few times you’re on the web – even if you’ve already bought the product.

This type of preference-based approach – however sophisticated – can only go so far towards a fully tailor made customer experience. When, where and how the personalized message or offer is delivered is every bit as important.

The content has to be designed and worded in a way that will appeal to that individual consumer. This content has to be delivered consistently across devices and, indeed, personnel. In-store staff can be armed with the same information that the customer can access on their smartphone. Some companies are providing their staff with iPads to make this happen while others are encouraging their instore staff to continue the dialog online to create a richer and more one-to-one customer experience.

The latest generations of Web Experience Management and Customer Experience Management allow for the creation of highly personalized content that can be delivered across platforms. They enable organizations to move from the personalized emails and targeted offers – where most retailers are today – towards an enriched experience based on content that the customer will respond to and the context of how and when the customer chooses to access that content.

Customers want personalization but they want it on their terms. They don’t want to feel their personal data is being abused. They want to feel special. That means combining good old-fashioned customer service with the latest customer experience technologies to ensure they receive a tailor made experience. In my next blog, I’ll look at what this means for the business processes of retailers and their suppliers.

Robin Gellerman

Robin is the Industry Strategist for Retail at OpenText. With over twenty years in the ECM industry, she has held product and industry marketing positions spanning document management, capture and customer communications technologies. Previously, she worked as a Solution Marketing Manager for Energy & Engineering and Healthcare.

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