The retail industry has undergone many significant changes in recent times to meet the needs of today’s modern day shopper. Customers expect brands to deliver a tailored shopping experience with flows between physical and digital channels. Brands must not underestimate the value of having an effective online and mobile strategy in place – research by O2 and retail analyst Conlumino reveals brands that do not engage with customers through digital platforms are missing out on £12bn of sales. It they are to compete, brands need to make sure their digital channels are as compelling as a physical store, and as equally welcoming and personal. As a result, digital technologies and personalisation tools are becoming key factors in providing consumers with a truly engaging and seamless shopping experience.
As popularity in the likes of Facebook and Twitter grows, people are sharing more information online about their behaviours and interests than ever before. Coupled with Search Engine Marketing, brands have an opportunity to accumulate large quantities of personal data about their online journeys, which with the right tools, can be analysed to understand patterns of customer behaviour. This growth of Big Data has allowed retailers to gain huge amounts of data on customers which, if combined with a single view of the consumer, enables brands to leverage new and existing knowledge about the customer to deliver a more refined and targeted offering and ultimately increase sales.
Big Data provides all retailers with a range of benefits, but for online-only businesses, it presents the opportunity to offer a retail experience which mirrors that of a shopper interacting with an employee face-to-face. While a shop assistant can quickly adapt to customers by adjusting their sales tactics in-store, online brands can use the same approach through analytics and personalisation tools. By collecting and analysing information such as purchase and browsing history, e-retailers can offer customers product recommendations tailored to them. For the customer it makes it easier to find what they want, and for the retailer it increases the chance the customer will find an item they want to buy. For example, analysis of customer information may reveal that those arriving from a specific search keyword will tend to be interested in a particular product characteristic, enabling the retailer to serve a tailored homepage to those users. Other personalisation techniques include recommending products via email, targeting promotions which are relevant, and helping customers navigate sites in a personalised way. This level of personalisation enables online-only retailers to deliver a bespoke service which rivals that of high-street shops. The impersonal mass of data can help transform into a highly personal and relevant experience for a brand.
While personalisation technologies, analytics tools and data storage requires significant investment, when managed properly they are incredibly effective. Retailers which personalise their online strategies can open up powerful opportunities to retain customers, enhance their brand image, generate free word-of-mouth marketing and drive sales. Personalisation enables brands to engage with customers on a much deeper level, keeping them onsite to complete transactions instead of jumping to a competitor’s site. A great example of personalisation can be seen with Stylistpick. The fashion retailer noticed that shoppers who visited a second category page without putting a product in their basket were less likely to make a purchase. The analysis also highlighted that shoppers using Google Chrome were more price sensitive. In a response the retailer created a special offer to Chrome users who arrived on a second page without putting anything in their basket.
Personalisation is mostly not about instant rewards but about engaging customers in a meaningful dialogue based on their desires. The long-term benefit is that customers develop a greater sense of trust in the retailer. Shoppers are more confident that retailers will have the products they want to buy and they will be easy to find, increasing customer loyalty and the likelihood of repeat purchases. This is because customers who feel they are treated as individuals are more likely to be satisfied with their experience and more inclined to be a brand advocate. Loyal customers buy more and purchase more often.
Marketers, especially at a senior level, are realising the benefits of using data to create a more personalised experience online. This is furthered by research conducted by Capgemini into the rising impact of Big Data on decision making (2012), which revealed that Big Data has improved businesses’ performance by 26 per cent and that the impact will grow to 41 per cent over the next three years. The same research found that business leaders around the world are increasingly referring to information as one of their organisation’s most critical and strategic corporate assets.
Being relevant and personal online has never been more important. By knowing your online audience and understanding what they really want, brands can build a lifetime relationship with customers. Outside of retail we can all testify to what makes a great restaurant. We can get a nice meal in lots of restaurants, but what keeps us coming back to our favourite is the service and the atmosphere – being made to feel welcome and treated to a personal touch is what guarantees repeat bookings. For those retailers that use Big Data to deliver a more relevant, engaging and personalised shopping experience will not only see conversion rates grow, they’ll also see customers return time and time again.