Finding the right personalisation balance

Personalisation and digital store technologies are hot topics in retail this year, according to recent research from Forrester, which also found omnichannel and analytics to feature high on the agenda for technology investment.

In fact, 68% of companies consider delivering personalised experiences as a priority – but finding the right balance between helpfulness and creepiness is not often straightforward for retailers.

Some 53% of organisations lack the right technology to personalise experiences, Forrester says, but there are other factors to consider as retail marketers move towards their target of increased one-to-one communication with their customers.

Aligning marketing messages with in-store purchases

Since the early days of ecommerce, retailers have been able to email product recommendations based on shoppers’ previous purchasing behaviour. Nowadays, customers expect retailers to understand their shopping behaviour across a multitude of channels, such as in store and social media – and act accordingly.

For example, customers want the same customisation levels they receive when browsing online as they do when entering a store; whether that is a promotional offer based on a recent ‘like’ on Instagram, or a suggested complimentary product to match an item recently bought.

In fact, our recent research found that three in four shoppers feel stores could do better at delivering recommendations based on previous purchases. The results suggest that despite technological advancements, some of the resulting personalisation benefits haven’t yet filtered through to the visiting customer.

Treating loyal customers differently

Customers appear to be getting increasingly demanding about how retailers interact with them. They understand the power of data exchange and want to receive something back for providing organisations with personal details such as email addresses and mobile numbers.

We found that two thirds of shoppers believe there is no difference in how they are treated in store whether they are first-time customers or regular visitors. And despite the advantage of cookie tracking and long-running analytics, the online channel still has some vulnerabilities in common with the store.

Just like in stores, regular online shoppers do not feel they are treated any differently from first-time visitors, with just 27% of consumers saying they are recognised and just two-fifths enjoying relevant loyalty bonuses.

Customer loyalty to brands has become somewhat watered down in an age of price comparison websites and increased competition – both on the High Street and online – but simply recognising regular customers, and rewarding them with special offers or event invitations from time-to-time, can go a long way to retaining shoppers.

Single view of customer – no scaremongering

Although there is a desire for greater personalised experiences, it is clear retailers can get carried away. Just because someone once bought a trainset as a gift, it does not mean they are interested in talking about or receiving information on similar ranges every time they visit a store.

Likewise, it is important that retailers do not use their single view of customer data in an unexpected fashion. As consumers, we have all received location-based suggestions or communications from businesses that come across as creepy – it’s up to retailers to emphasise why they are contacting a specific person and underline that previous relationship at the point of contact.

As retailers continue to invest in personalisation tools and omnichannel capability, successful deployment will depend on store associates and customer call centre staff using shopper information discerningly and to the customer’s benefit.

Getting the personalisation balance right entails choosing the correct tools and training staff to use them effectively, as well as continually learning about customer behaviour and acting on these insights as their behaviour evolves over time.

By Steve Powell, Director of sales, PCMS