Personalized Shopping: Making or Breaking Brands?

Creating an identity is a long process that requires discipline, research and resilience. Brand building, much like bodybuilding, doesn’t happen overnight and any drifting away from the successful routine can have long-term damaging effects on the overall result.

Companies have learned that one of the best ways to make a name for themselves is to pay attention to the customer and to become mind readers of customers’ needs and desires. Prompting them with just the right offer at the right time is the way to win their hearts and make them pull out their wallets, but where do you draw the line between marketing and creepiness?

Making the Brand: Advantages of Personalization

Time is the most precious resource. If you can upgrade shopping experience to save your customers’ time, they will repay you with loyalty and positive word of mouth. Using Big Data can help determine users’ profiles, create micro-recommendations for them and increase the customer care dimension.

Increased Sales through Recommendation Engines

The world-class leader Amazon has defined the way online shoppers expect to be treated and has set an industry standard for recommendation engines. Now, around a half of shoppers want to receive personalized offers, 45% are more likely to make a purchase on websites that tailor the experience to their needs, and to 56% are expected to become returning customers.

If your company is just a small online shop with no budget, the great news is that you can still use the same tools as the industry leaders in the pay-per-use model. Companies like IBM are creating affordable packages based on Big Data analytics and are removing the entry barriers in this game entirely.

Excellent customer care

Right now, all the information is out there. Companies should only take advantage of the hints given by customers themselves and position their brand as customer-centric, or differentiate their offer by using the most important categories for each customer.

Excellent customer care is all about learning from past interactions and easing out the way for the customer to make as little effort as possible on order placement, paying and giving feedback. The 1-click checkout pioneered by Amazon is one of those small changes that boost sales, but you could achieve similar results simply with a social login that also facilitates interaction.

Increased Loyalty

Loyalty is all about building meaningful and genuine relationships with your customers. It’s about understanding their lifestyle, preferences and logically anticipating needs. For example, for one-time expensive shopping items, it is useless to re-target them with similar purchases once they have already spent their money, but it is more thoughtful to suggest related products.

Fiercely loyal customers feel part of a tribe and are pleased by the community they are part of since these increases their sense of self. Brands can use Big Data to find out what each customer values the most (family, independence, traveling) and play on these to get pinpointed promotions. Dismiss the temptation to use negative feelings as a purchase incentive, although it could work in short-term.

Breaking the Brand: The Creepy Side of Personalization

Big Data has been a game changer in the world of customized shopping experiences, yet as with every powerful tool here comes a great responsibility. Following people who casually visited your site everywhere, bombarding them with emails and plastering every other website they visit with remarketing is not only counter-productive but feels like an aggression. This will definitely have the opposite effect, making people want to hide their online identity and erase all traces of their activity. A good rule of thumb is to imagine the same interaction in a real-life setting and decide what would be considered inappropriate.

Collect Information Openly

Although most people visiting your website can bring a wealth of information with them through the cookies in their browsers, it is safer to build a relationship step by step and don’t make any inferences or assumptions. You can track the usage patterns, but never present visitors with a recommendation just after a few clicks or based solely on their age, gender and location.

If you feel you need more information, give incentives and keep surveys to the bare minimum, while avoiding asking for too many personal details for the risk of losing them altogether.

Don’t Stalk Customers

A counterproductive tactic to promote your brand is to use all the information you have about the customer in a way that can be considered intrusive and make them feel uneasy. Avoid remarketing techniques as soon as the user has just closed a page, or intrusive advertising such as emails or even SMS to give them promotions or simple reminders.

It is acceptable to recommend a cosmetic product similar to what they bought a few months ago in the idea to replenish their stocks, but it is weird and uneasy to notify them about a lingerie set which is precisely their size and on sale now.

Plastering banners or pop-ups everywhere except you competitor’s websites is not the right way to make an impression, even if you are covered by terms and conditions (which nobody reads).

Protect Their Privacy

A recent discovery of photo categorization on iPhones is not only disturbing but could be regarded as an attack on their users’ privacy. Avoid making suggestions linked to very personal information you have, like the amount they spend or diseases they suffer.

How Personal Should You Get?

When positioning yourself as a helpful and thoughtful brand, it is all about keeping the right balance between using the information you have about your customers and being intrusive. You should avoid at all costs repeating Target’s mistake of announcing sensitive news to family members before  they know it, but you should also use enough tailoring to prevent embarrassing cross-sells like a free lipstick for a set of power tools.

It is all about being relevant, helpful, focused and respecting your customers’ personal boundaries. By collecting new information as your relationship unfolds, you can design a communication tool and build your brand as a helpful one.

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