I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard technology providers claim to offer real-time personalization solutions in recent years. It should be obvious what they all mean, right? Real-time means instantaneous, or “the actual time during which a process or event occurs,” according to the dictionary. But then why does it feel so difficult to identify when something is truly happening in real time, and when it’s just a marketing claim?

Here’s an example I spotted while watching TV the other night. In a recent commercial with Elizabeth Banks, she says that Realtor.com provides “real estate in real time.” Then she goes on to say that listings are updated every 15 minutes.

An update every 15 minutes doesn’t exactly meet the definition of true real-time, since every 15 minutes isn’t the actual time in which a property listing changes or becomes available. It’s these types of examples that lead us to settle for less than true real-time in other situations.

When it comes to real-time personalization, at Evergage we have a very clear definition of what real-time is, and what it isn’t:

Real-time personalization means that every step from the moment a visitor lands on your site to processing  her current and past behavior; to understanding her intent and then determining and presenting a personalized experience; to the moment the data about her experience becomes available for attribution analysis all happens in a fraction of a second.

That’s it.

When “real-time personalization" isn’t real-time

Let’s walk through a fictitious example of personalization. Let’s say that you walk into a big box retail store to look at storage solutions. You ask a sales associate for a recommendation of what kind of storage solution you should purchase, and he recommends an action figure.

You tell him that doesn’t make any sense, because you’re interested in storage solutions, not children’s toys. He says that you were interested in children’s toys the last time you were in the store, so that’s what he has for you. But, he says, if you come back in a few hours he can recommend a storage solution for you because it will take a little while to update your preferences in their system.

This sounds crazy, right? It’s obviously not a real-time recommendation (or a good customer experience!). But this is exactly what some other personalization solutions offer for the digital world.

So how do you know when something is really real-time?

We want to provide you with a complete understanding of what real-time is so that you can evaluate solutions that claim to offer real-time personalization. Download our latest whitepaper, True Real-Time Personalization, to learn more about the many facets of real-time, and access a checklist to help you determine if a personalization solution’s “real-time” claims are accurate.