Tailoring a customer’s shopping experiences to match their needs has long been a priority for sellers. ‘Personalisation’ meant hiring an in-store sales assistant who could infer basic information about their customers like gender, age as well as learn about their personal preferences and advice them throughout their buying journey.
As more customers started to replace store with online experiences, sellers had to find a way to replicate this one-to-one approach, while catering for at a scale.
As such, there’s been a rush of solutions claiming to be personalisation experts, and eager to promote their brand of ‘personalisation’ to retailers. In this confusing environment, how can retailers determine what ‘real’ personalisation is? How can this help shape their omnichannel strategy? And what should personalisation look like for consumers?
Segmentation, customisation and contextualisation
Firstly, retailers should be clear on the differences between segmentation and personalisation, as many vendors promise to enable the latter, whilst their solutions are only capable of delivering is the former.
Segmentation involves grouping shoppers based on demographics like age, gender, geographic location and income. Different experiences can then be delivered to different groups of people who share certain attributes. However, while this customises the shopping experience, it does not truly personalise it; it delivers recommendations based on group and demographic behaviours, but does not engage shoppers on an individual level.
For example, a retailer may have a number of customers who are male, 45 years of age, who live in New York, and are in the top income bracket, yet each man within this group may have wildly different preferences.
Retailers must go beyond segmentation (basic personalisation) and combine historical cross-session knowledge of each visitor to their website or app with real-time context, including location, time of day and weather. This will enable retailers to hone the way they target consumers by delivering more relevant content and recommendations that speak to each visitor’s interests and specific circumstances.
While a number of retailers will be using personalisation solutions that leverage some of this contextual information, fewer will have adopted platforms which leverage perhaps the most important information: real-time action.
Retailers who want to deliver truly personalised experiences need to focus on real-time behaviours, looking at shoppers as individuals rather than segmenting them into groups based on common traits. As Forrester analyst Brendan Witcher said, “personalisation based on segmentation delivers the wrong experience”.
Retailers must understand their shoppers’ behaviour in real time, click-by-click, action-by-action, recognise future intent as well as historic action, and proactively respond to this, tailoring highly relevant content at the most personal, individual level.
This approach replicates the skills of the traditional in-store sales assistant we highlighted at the outset. Personalisation solutions effectively ask or acknowledge the same kind of information as would the sales assistant: What is the shopper’s intent? What have they done in the past? Who are they? Where are they? What are they looking at? Answering these questions helps to build a behavioural profile in real time and delivers recommendations and engagement also in real time – again, as would a brick-and-mortar sales assistant.
What does this look like from a marketer’s perspective? It’s predictive landing pages with tailored offers which boost engagement and conversion; personalised auto-discovery and search functionality which dynamically show the most relevant products based on shopper profile and behaviour; it’s targeting content – such as images, promotions and blogs – and showing customers the kind of things they’re interested in, to enhance the shopping experience.
However, it’s important that personalised experiences are delivered across the board, including digital and in-store touchpoints. So, how can a retailer determine and deploy an omnichannel personalisation strategy? And what does the end result look like from the shopper perspective?
An omnichannel approach
The technology driving personalisation needs to be equally all-encompassing and able to orchestrate campaigns across a retailer’s complete technology stack, and throughout the entire lifecycle of the customer journey. A solution should be a one-stop-shop, helping to unify siloed datasets across departments and supporting collaboration between different teams, from marketing and merchandising to customer service.
In addition to multiple digital channels, ‘personalisation’ today must also incorporate bricks-and-mortar. We’ve seen the results of those retailers who’ve failed to pay heed to this (or failed to distinguish between different types of ‘personalisation’ promised by tech vendors): the closure of physical stores and staff redundancies.
An omnichannel approach should be driven by a full-stack solution which connects the dots between touchpoints and links with bricks-and-mortar PoS (point of sale) and CRM (customer relationship management).
What does this look like for the shopper? Let’s imagine she goes to her favourite fashion brand’s website and after browsing and buys a denim dress. She adds the dress to her cart and is navigated to the online checkout. On this page, she is recommended a pair of shoes and a t-shirt which match the dress and are in stock, in her size. She adds the t-shirt to her basket, deliberates, and then decides against the entire purchase. She then receives an email reminding her of the abandoned basket and offering free delivery to store as an incentive. After buying the items, she goes to the store to collect her purchase and receives a notification of an in-store sale. She picks up a couple of items on special offer, and after leaving the store, is emailed a receipt for all purchases, which are also logged on her online account.