The case for personalisation

From the dawn of modern consumerism offering a personal touch was a key differentiator for high-quality retailers and service providers keen to set themselves apart from the rest. Remembering client names, previous purchases or children’s birthdays added that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that bonded retailer to customer. It fostered loyalty, repeat business and positive word of mouth marketing. 

Then came technology, which enabled retailers to communicate at volumes never before considered possible. This insatiable appetite for reaching vast potential new audiences quickly led to a boom in mass marketing techniques like email send-outs. In latter years the addressee name would be changed which, at the time, was considered revolutionary but the notion of personalisation was nowhere near the top of the priority list. Today, we’ve come full circle only now personalisation is no longer the preserve of the premium retailers.

Let’s get personal 

Customers expect communications and products tailored to their individual preferences. This is being driven by skyrocketing expectations and advances in technology. According to an Accenture study, over 75 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from retailers that know their name and purchase history and provide recommendations that are appropriately on-taste. And 52 percent are more inclined to change brands if a company doesn’t offer personalised communication.

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A look around any UK high street will only endorse this view. The list of historical retail giants that have closed makes sorry reading; House of Fraser, Debenhams, Maplin, Woolworths. The list goes on. One major common denominator among these retail casualties is that they each failed, at some level, to adapt to escalating consumer demand for digital experiences and personalisation. And, when we consider what these now defunct retailers were up against, it’s not hard to see why they are no longer with us.

The Amazon way

Around 25 years ago, an online bookseller was born on the cusp of the digital age. Today, Amazon is the world’s most valuable public company, and its founder, Jeff Bezos, is the wealthiest person on the planet. It is the posterboy for online retail brilliance and for proof, we only have to look back to last week when its shopping event, Prime day, became the biggest singular retail event in history. Clearly, it must be doing something right. 

With a wealth of products, personalised recommendations, seamless checkout and quick delivery, it’s no surprise that more and more people are spending a significant part of their customer journeys within the Amazon ecosystem. According to reports, a staggering 56 percent of US, UK, German and French shoppers now use Amazon as a starting point for their purchasing journeys. And 51 percent go to Amazon even if they have found something they liked on another site. Why? Because Amazon offers suggestions, additional information and price comparisons.

Looking now this direction feels so obvious and simple, but that wasn’t always the case. Amazon’s “frequently bought together” was a revolutionary technique that offered a layer of service that traditional retailers simply could not. It was also the platform for Amazon to push the benchmark higher and higher as far as customer connection is concerned. As technology has evolved, it has been able to create a personalised homepage for each of its customers based on factors like historical purchase habits, wishlist, and shopping cart. 

Tailored by technology

But Amazon is not alone here. Other internet visionaries like Netflix and Spotify were also early adopters of personalisation. Now companies the world over are doing it, which has created a self-perpetuating cycle of increased expectation. Shoppers want to have richer, more personalised experiences, whether in-person, online or via mobile and retailers are investing in data-gathering methods that can talk to customers on an individual level. Thankfully, tools exist today that allow all brands to personalise at a level previously unseen. 

Marketing technology has allowed brands to deploy messaging across every channel. It means every automated message feels personal, every intelligent product recommendation, hand-picked, and the timing and channel of communication is always based on logical and fact-based intelligence. In fact, the marketing automation sector is expected to grow by nearly ten percent in 2019 alone.

Demand for customer data platforms also continues to grow, as brands and organisations move towards building a single, 360-degree view of their customers. The desire being to achieve an omnichannel retail platform that allows retailers to seamlessly integrate every element of their business. This is so they are able to use information from one part of the business to inform another in order to offer the best possible service to customers.

This is all driven by the emergence of big data tools capable of capturing vast amounts of information, and the increased involvement of AI, which is able to analyse this information for meaningful impact. All done on such a scale that is beyond the wildest imaginations while helping to cut the cost for retailers. According to an August 2018 survey of 400 retail executives worldwide by Capgemini, AI could save retailers as much as $340 billion annually by 2022.

In fact, personalisation has become so commonplace that, as a consumer, it’s almost a surprise to receive something impersonal. Technology means stores can send automatic in-stock recommendations for something a customer may have previously tried to purchase. Shoppers can be contacted via email on the back of recent purchases and offered next-time discounts or incentives accordingly.

Increasingly, stores are targeting demographics with VIP experiences connected to celebrities or influencers. This has the double benefit of fostering loyalty and driving in-store footfall. And this is the tip of the iceberg. There are many examples of how stores are getting personal when it comes to their customers.

The key to survival

This is because today’s consumers are challenging retailers to put individuality at the heart of everything they do. Retail has always been a people business but traditional experiences and methods are no longer enough to satisfy consumers today. 

To win in the long-term, brands need to think from the point of view of the customer, putting their individual preferences, histories, and current states at the centre of every interaction they have with the brand.  With more choices than ever before, consumers will align themselves with the brands that truly put them first, giving them the most relevant experiences at every touchpoint.

Tim Stone, global head of revenue marketing, Selligent Marketing Cloud

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