Re-Learning Old Skills for New Channels: Retail Personalization Remains Paramount

Jun 7, 2013

After a recent interview with Shopper Marketer I was struck by a sense of irony. How is it that, after all these centuries of human commerce, we are still discussing the need for personalization? Isn’t the salesperson-customer relationship about personalized engagement?

In an ideal world, yes – retail is about personalized engagement. But a wealth of new communication channels (think email, mobile and social for starters) can be either pathways for heightened dialogue thanks to the business intelligence they gather, or media that generate confusion and impersonal customer experiences.

In other words, there can be too much of a good thing.Retail Personalization Paramount in Loyalty Programs

The key for retailers and their loyalty program managers is to take the genuineness of physical one-to-one customer engagement and translate that into the digital realm. In its simplest form, personalization 2.0 is about how retailers can understand shopper preferences across all channels in order to generate a seamless customer profile. Let’s call them the “two Ps.”

  • Customer profiles can be thought of as a broader personal interest snapshot, similar to a Facebook homepage showing an individual’s likes and dislikes.
  • Shopper preferences are more brand and style-specific. Learning how to use a customer’s profile to deduce likely preferences, however, is really where the digital and mobile future of retailing lies.

It’s fitting, then, that Amazon the online etailer, shares most of its name’s letters with the word “amazing.” Because by many measures, the brand offers a glimpse into the future of retailing today and is very amazing at what it does.

Amazon analyzes what I buy online and then sends relevant and timely follow-up offers for additional products I might like. Of course, Amazon doesn’t know that my family’s single account is used by my husband as well – what it sees is an amalgam of all our product preferences. If only Amazon developed the tools (or empowered its customers) to separate single accounts into sub profiles, then its success would be even more amazing.

Social media is also a valuable part of the personalization equation and it’s something that BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse is particularly good at through its Premier Rewards loyalty program. While not strictly a retail example, the restaurant chain is very much a merchandising-dining hybrid.

Premier Rewards combines elements of gamification, social media and personalization by allowing members to earn points by Facebook posting or tweeting what they’re eating in-restaurant. This makes the shared dining experience more social and more fun. But it also is a creative way for the restaurant and its CRM program to build out customer preferences. That way the next time individual customers walk in, servers might know what each of them wants before they order it.         

Ultimately personalization is vital to brands across all verticals looking to maximize ROI. And that’s because effective personalization that enlightens without bombarding is all about shifting consumer segments, ideally turning an infrequent shopper into a loyal, repeat fan. Doing so pushes them into the small, but essential subgroup that often constitutes 70-80% of a brand’s total revenue.

Retail personalization might be as old as the first storefronts. But that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a 21st century omnichannel upgrade.

How is your brand investing in the “two Ps” and ways to drive more personal experiences through today’s social media and mobile channels? Share your insights in the comments section below.