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The Personalisation Loop – the holy grail of retail?


Once, not so long ago, we used to go into the local shop where the person serving would usually know what we wanted to buy without us saying a word; they would even sometimes know our name. But things have moved on, and the local shops have started to disappear, replaced by the larger supermarkets where the customer is anonymous, even with the first generation of loyalty cards.

Recent news stories highlight the fact that the major supermarket chains are adjusting their growth strategies by opening fewer hypermarkets and more local stores to meet the changing needs of the shopper, whose average basket sizes are smaller, and the challenges posed by the discount stores. And the annual Small Business Day takes place on 6th December to encourage people to shop locally, much as they do in the rest of the EU. However, how can today’s larger retailers recapture that personal level of service, de-anonymising the customers in front of their tills and suggesting products or special offers that might be of interest?

There has been a lot of discussion about how we live in an increasingly digital and hyper-connected world. From consuming our news online to communicating via digital methods – social networks, mobile devices and app-based platforms – almost every aspect of our lives are touched, and even enhanced, by the digital world. So how can retailers utilise this hyper-connectivity subtly, offering a personalised service whilst converting the information that surrounds people, organisations and devices (our Code Halos) into commercial opportunity?

It all starts with the individual. Every customer is different, so why should they have the same experience? Cognizant’s recent global Retail Shopper Experience Study revealed that 90% of 18-34 year olds and 82% of those over the age of 45 value a more personalised approach from retailers. In particular, 54% of shoppers will respond to special treatment based on what a company already knows about them. However, while consumers expect a highly personalised shopping experience, retailers are still in their early days of adapting to those expectations, with 72% of companies recently surveyed by eConsultancy stating that they ‘understand the importance of personalisation, but don’t know how to do it’.

For retailers, the balancing act between being relevant and being too “big brother”- like is becoming ever more precarious. Customers’ expectations are a moving target and companies’ capabilities are advancing at unprecedented rates. Amid the proliferation of personalisation and CRM technologies, customers have come to expect retailers to know who they are, what they purchased and their preferences for interaction, but not to go so far as to invade their privacy and sense of security. In fact, 63% of shoppers express a negative reaction to retailers who use social media to influence purchases, recommend products or share deals.

So what can retailers do to strike the right balance? It all starts with understanding the individual. Consider the amount of personal technology we all now use. Now think about all the things that can be done with it, from connecting with friends to managing money and monitoring fitness levels. Over time, every click, swipe, “like”, buy, deposit, jog, and search produces information that creates a unique pattern of accumulated data that becomes your virtual identity. This virtual identity is your personal Code Halo.

People, organisations, and things all have a Code Halo, and this trend is beginning to change how retailers create economic value. The next step being implemented by leading retailers is to create a joined-up view of each individual customer, to understand their interaction with a business’ website, social media channels and in-store, and be able to better map the customer journey.

Whether consumers browse online at the weekends, compile a wish list of items on Pinterest, and then shop in store or only ever look at items that are reduced, retailers are now in a position where they can build a clear picture of each consumer. Leading retailers are adapting their behaviour in line with new patterns of activity, from listing trending items and adapting the website homepage based on an individual’s preferences, to building a complete picture that takes in both online and offline engagement with each customer. The reality is that it is a case of taking small steps in the right direction, mapping where you can recognise consumers and tracking feedback and pathways online and in store, whenever possible. Understanding this type of data is crucial in order to make any progress in implementing a personalised consumer strategy.

Retailers that get ahead now will be ideally placed to take advantage of customer expectations and offer a truly personalised service in the future with technology that is fully embraced by their customers. With the advent of Code Halos, any retailer can come full circle to deliver the personalised service of days gone by, driving increased sales and improved customer loyalty in the process. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Ian Jarvis, Assistant Vice President, Retail Consulting, Cognizant

Published on Thursday 04 December by Editorial Assistant

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