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Why Personalization is Key to the ‘New Consumer’


By Graeme Grant, president & COO, CQuotient

Technology and the proliferation of communications channels have significantly altered the way brands and retailers approach customer engagement. What was a “nice-to-have” strategy of coordinating messages across shopping channels only three years ago is now a “sink-or-swim” requirement for merchants. Consumers engage across every touch-point and demand that retailers have an omnichannel communication approach to complement their always-connected behaviors.

Retail Systems Research (RSR) analyst Steve Rowen addressed this topic earlier this year in a post highlighting findings from the firm’s February e-commerce report, stating that “two of the top three challenges [retailers] are most apt to cite (uncertain consumer demand and keeping up with evolving consumer shopping patterns) stem from this ‘new consumer.’”

This “new consumer” isn’t as mysterious as retailers think. It is still the same shopper, but their expectations have changed because they are aware of the data they are giving the retailer (Web browsing, mobile app usage, in-store coupons, etc.) and therefore expect to receive value back in exchange. The good news is that if you can meet their expectations, it can be very lucrative. However the bad news is meeting their expectations is hard. And marketers know it! In a recent study of 1,000 marketers, personalization came up as the most important capability required for successful marketing in the future.

So how can brands and retailers deliver personalized experiences and drive omnichannel engagement? Here are my top tips:

Change your interactions mindset

More interactions, digital and physical, mean more data for brands and retailers to collect on consumers’ interests and preferences, increasing the understanding of their individual, personalized needs. The trick is to use this data to paint a full picture of a consumer and avoid looking at interactions separately. If Shopper Jane’s interactions with your brand reveal that she regularly browses on mobile, but doesn’t convert and you’re unsure as to why, look elsewhere. It’s likely you’ll find that mobile is her go-to channel for product discovery, but in-store or online is her preferred channel for purchases. By understanding each customer’s interactions regardless of channel, you’ll have greater insight into them as individuals and be able to better appreciate the impact of each interaction.

And by understanding a consumer’s unique and preferred interactions and touch-points, merchants can better anticipate the products and merchandise a consumer will want, need, like and buy, and generate the personalized communications necessary to convert those preferences into purchases.

Be relevant … always

As retailers know, the “new consumer” is demanding personalized and consistent experiences across every channel). Consumers expect that their favorite retailers understand them and know their preferences, taste and interests, and have made it clear that they will look elsewhere if retailers don’t provide them with the relevant content they demand. And they want this personalized experience whether they’re shopping online, browsing in-store, flipping through a catalog or perusing on mobile.

Let’s look at Shopper Jane again. Let’s say she has expressed interest in a navy striped skirt while browsing online. Her subsequent interactions across mobile, email and in-store must reflect that interest. If Shopper Jane is anything like the majority of shoppers who find value in personalized experiences across channels, she’ll want to see similar merchandise as well as complementary items, such as matching tops and coordinating accessories, in the next email she opens or direct mailer she receives. She’ll also want access to that merchandise regardless of what channel she discovered it on – meaning if she opens an email on mobile, you need to ensure she can easily find that matching top on your website or pick it up at her closest brick-and-mortar location. The last thing you want is to send an email congratulating her on her new arrival with a coupon for baby clothes if she’s not a new mom (like Shutterfly recently did!), or send her a men’s clothing catalog with gift ideas for her husband if she’s not married. Instead, strive for personalization and relevance at every point. By providing relevant, valuable information to the consumers across every channel, from web and mobile to e-mail and in-store, retailers can create deeper, long-term customer relationships.

You have to start now

One of the most common reasons that retailers give for not capitalizing on consumer interactions or delivering personalized messaging across omnichannel touch-points is bandwidth. They assume it must be nothing short of magic to develop and maintain an operation that collects, analyzes and utilizes consumer data. Certainly it requires specialized technical, operational and predictive science skills to turn mountains of data into actions your customers appreciate it, but magic it is not.

So before you wave the white flag, consider your options. One solution entails partnering with a third-party vendor that has the mechanisms in place to analyze customer data and deliver personalized retailing programs, allowing you to transform customer insights into relevant, tailored communications for each individual consumer. Retailers can also look to hire marketing scientists – defined by Forrester Research as someone capable of “converting ever-increasing amounts of customer data into more profitable customer relationships.” Your last option is to do nothing and let Amazon understand your customers better than you do. But I am guessing not many retailers are going to choose door number three and survive for long.

Customer experience stands as the primary differentiator in today’s competitive retail market where everyone’s price is a click away and there is a long list on Google of competitors selling the same thing you are. By delivering personalization and improving omnichannel engagement, merchants have the opportunity to satisfy the “new consumer” and develop long-lasting relationships with them.

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