Marketers have talked about being more “customer-centric” for years, but what “customer-centricity” actually means has evolved over time. Today, marketers are coming to realize that one-to-one personalization is essential to being a customer-centric business, because each customer is different. What works for one person may not work for another, so you can’t be “customer centric” for every customer unless you’re leveraging personalization to tailor your shopping experience to each and every individual person.
Those of us who attended Shoptalk this year heard this as a major theme throughout the event. And in today’s competitive retail industry where headlines highlighting store closings are commonplace and competition for online traffic is fierce, providing unique experiences is more of an imperative than ever before.
Of course, retailers already realize this. In his keynote, David Jaffe, Chairman & CEO of Ascena Retail Group, Inc., made it clear that the shopping experience is just as important as the product the customer is shopping for.
But if it were simple to implement one-to-one personalization, it wouldn’t have been such a main focus of Shoptalk — or any other marketing conference these days. In this blog post, I’ll explore the main concepts behind providing better experiences through personalization.
Un-Siloed, One-to-One Data
Consumers these days expect retailers to know and understand them (which David Jaffe also highlighted in his keynote, as shown in this image below). But doing so is simply not possible without data. The good news is that retailers have access to a lot of data about their shoppers and customers. The challenge is that data is often siloed in different areas across the organization. This challenge was an oft-cited one at Shoptalk as well — Noam Paransky, SVP of Digital, Gap Inc., noted that un-siloing customer data is a key focus of Gap’s future plans.
Customer data needs to be brought together in a single location and attributed to a single individual in a unique customer profile. This includes any behavioral data from your website or mobile app, any data that is sitting in any database across your company (such as whether the shopper is member of your loyalty program, whether she is a high-value customer, whether she has purchased online or in-store, etc.), any information you can infer about her preferences and intent, and much more. Without access to all of this data in one location, you simply can’t show each customer that you know and understand them.
The challenge with collecting all of that data, however, is retailers need some way to actually make use of it. That’s where machine learning comes in.
Machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), was a key focus of the event — with sessions titled “Advances in Personalization: AI and Beyond,” “Top AI Use Cases in Retail: Understanding the Opportunity for Your Business,” and “Understanding the AI Revolution.”
Machine learning and AI are terms that are used so often that their meanings can often get lost. But machine learning is necessary for true one-to-one personalization. It helps you sift through all the different options you could display to a person and select the best one based on all the data and knowledge you have available on that person. Whether it’s selecting the best products, categories, brands, promotions, etc. to recommend to a shopper; reordering or changing the navigation to help her find what she’s looking for; sorting the search results to be relevant to her, etc., machine learning can make it possible.
Omnichannel is another topic we heard a lot at Shoptalk. Sessions like “Omnichannel and Seamless Customer Experiences” and “Legacy Retailers: Thriving in an Omni Channel World” made it clear that the topic is on everyone’s minds. David Jaffe noted that more than 20% of Ascena’s business comes from e-commerce. With such a key role to play, everything in the company is converging around omnichannel — bringing together the e-commerce experience with the in-store experience.
The truth is that consumers don’t interact with your channels in isolation. When they say that they expect to be known and understood, they mean across channels — not just on mobile or via email. Omnichannel personalization is only possible when retailers can collect data from each channel, bring it together, and then personalize the experience in each channel. That includes web, mobile, email, search, advertising, phone, and in-store experiences. It’s no easy feat, but the successful retailers in the next several years will be the ones that get it right.
“Real-time” is another critical component to providing a helpful and effective experience for someone. When a shopper is engaging with your company, you need to be able to recognize her (pulling data from all sources, including her behaviors across channels) and select an experience to show her immediately. If you can’t bring the data sources together in real time, then your personalized experiences will always end up being behind-the-times. And, when you think about it, a delayed personalized experience isn’t really personalized at all — because the key to personalization is being relevant to each individual in the moment.
As Chieh Huang, CEO of Boxed, mentioned in his (hilarious!) keynote, value used to mean a good product for a good price. Today it means a good product at a good price, sold in a way that’s convenient for the individual in a short amount of time. The best way to provide a seamless and convenient experience is to surface the information that’s relevant to each individual immediately — without requiring them to dig around your site or delete every irrelevant email they receive from you.
This is not all a pipe dream. You can achieve the type of futuristic, one-to-one retail experiences described at Shoptalk this year by using Evergage as your personalization platform. To learn more, request a demo today and download a free digital copy of our recently published book, One-to-One Personalization in the Age of Machine Learning.