Personalization… Creepy or Cool?

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Sep 24 2015, Posted by Lisa Cramer

This article was originally written for CMO where it was published on September 10, 2015.
I walked into a department store the other day, and before I had a chance to hear myself think, an associate was waving the latest face cream at me and calling my name. The store’s mobile app had told her instantly who I was and what I had purchased on my last visit. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure “cool” or “interesting” were not the first words that popped into my head.

In-store technologies and software are empowering smart brands to deliver engaging, individualized customer experiences. But for some brands, this technology is just giving customers the creeps.
Creating Customer Value
According to a recent study by RichRelevance on retail personalization, customers are starting to feel that certain technologies might be taking it too far. So how can you ensure that your in-store personalization strategy does not violate the customer experience? In this post I’ll explain where to draw the line on personalization so you can create a personalized, hyper-relevant customer experience without causing the heebie geebies.

It’s all a matter of one simple rule: Create value for the customer on their terms. By value, I mean the data collected must be used to serve one (or more) of these purposes:

  • Gives access to more information, reviews, alternatives, price comparisons, inventory levels, and complimentary item recommendations based on a selected product.
  • Triggers inspirational or support DIY content on how to use or install a more complex product appropriately once at home or use it as intended to achieve some vision.
  • Helps to locate a specific product, maybe seen online or somewhere else, quickly in store.
  • Provides individualized product recommendations, coupons, promotions, etc. based on location or past purchase history.
  • Offers a connection to social media to share opinions or get opinions on a particular product or brand.
  • Provides access to unique rewards, offers, events, or gifts based on purchase volumes to date, frequency of visits, review submissions, etc.

Personalized Experiences On The Customer’s Terms
Now that we’ve covered what value is to the customer, let’s step back a little and talk about what it means to be “on their terms.” More and more customers are taking control of their shopping journey—now it’s the customer who says what, when, why, and how. In fact, according to Deloitte, right now customers have already taken over their own product inspiration, with 70% finding out about a product outside of brand communications or advertising.

So how can you use personalized experiences to influence customers, but still empower customers and leave them in the driver’s seat? Consider these three key things:

  1. Custom Content Preferences

    If you are pushing messages to customers’ smart phones and collecting data, did you clearly communicate why they were opting in and to what benefit? And, more importantly, did you give them the ability to set their content preferences? It’s important that you establish trust with your customers and avoid catching them off guard and making them feel like their privacy has been violated.

    And you should always give customers the option to choose if they want to move forward or not. A study by moblico found that of those customers that have been given the ability to tailor their content preferences, 74% have been satisfied or very satisfied with the brand’s communications. Alternatively, dynamically pushing content to screens integrated in the store or on a display based on a real-time analysis of customer demographics is another way to serve personalized content in a non-creepy fashion. But as you get ready to create your content here, remember it’s not about demonstrating to customers how much you know about them; it’s about using that insight to offer value that’s relevant to them and what they’re trying to do.

  2. Role of the Sales Associate

    If customers have trusted your brand or store with specific details about themselves, they don’t want the next sales person they see in-store throwing it in their faces as part of yet another pushy sales tactic. That is one of the fastest ways to ramp up your opt-outs. The role of the sales associate and how this person uses this privileged information during the customer’s experience must be carefully thought through, based on your customers’ known path to purchase.

    But as a basic rule, today’s sales associates should generally be patient until consumers are ready to engage with them. They should also take the legwork out of the customer’s journey—building credibility by offering a higher level of product information in an interactive, informative, and useful format.

  3. Buying Behavior Profiles

    Are you gathering demographic information for each customer type? Who are they? What are they doing? What are they interacting with, when and where? By collecting this information and keeping it anonymized to a customer profile type, your customers’ personal data will stay safe, but you’ll have the insights you need to better influence customer decisions in store and make more informed decisions on in-store marketing. You’ll also understand what role the sales associate should really play in supporting your customers’ path to purchase.

    The study by RichRelevance validates this. Shoppers were asked to rate a number of personalization practices on a scale of “cool to creepy.”

    Personalization Tactics: Cool Or Creepy?
    Cool vs Creepy StatsWe checked out the data and here’s what we found. As you can see by some of the examples , the shoppers’ “creep-tolerance” seems to have a direct correlation with how much value they received and their ability to control whether they moved forward with an experience.

    If the technology delivered value at the right time, consumers found it “cool.” But catch shoppers just walking in the door on a mission to pick up something else, still unaware of that brand and its product, and personalized messages were deemed “creepy.”

    The moral of the story? Many consumers are still warming up to personalization technologies in store, but they do expect some give and take of data in exchange for a more valuable, personalized experience. So it’s not about impressing consumers with how much you’ve been secretly gathering about them; it’s about using the data wisely to interpret how they’re moving through their chosen path to purchase, so you can put your best foot forward when they need you.

    Have you been stalked in store? How could the brand or retailer have turned the experience from creepy to cool?
    Image Credit Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

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