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Guest Comment: The power of ‘you’

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As retailers increasingly focus on ecommerce as a means of driving new revenues, Amazon continues to be a great example of best practice in terms of its sophisticated ability to recognise and deftly exploit consumer’s browsing and buying habits — contrasting with most other web sites, which still struggle to make full use of the wealth of customer data they have access to.

Of course, Amazon has the advantage that its route to market is one-dimensional, being 100% web-based. For most online retailers, this is just one of several channels, and therein lies the challenge. As hard as some have worked to blend their operations and business data across their bricks and mortar, call centre and web operations, plenty of gaps still exist — and it’s customers who are slipping through the cracks.

Failure to join up customer relationship management (CRM) activities with online visitor behaviour is a colossal waste of an opportunity. It also leads to frustrated and disgruntled customers who have to keep spelling out their details and preferences as they switch between channels.

An oasis in the recessionary desert

The web is the only sales channel to have grown during the recession, while high-street business has contracted significantly. Yet, while Internet retailers have come a long way in catching up with their more traditional sales outlets in terms of the breadth and sophistication of their product ranges and the way these are displayed online, they have failed to join up their CRM activities, which limits their impact as they try to personalise promotional offers.

The ability for a retailer to adapt online content that they show people according to their known preferences could be a powerful tool in building and strengthening their customer base, particularly if this can be dovetailed with offline activities.

The potential impact of personalised marketing over the web is enormous. Not only is the web responsible for the strongest growth in sales recently, it has also been responsible for making customers more fickle than they have ever been before. This flightiness presents a risk (of losing customers easily), but also a significant opportunity (of impressing them by doing something different and special, thereby luring them away from the competition).

The reality is stark. Online retailers have about seven seconds to capture the attention of a visitor and engage their interest. If this opportunity is lost, the customer will move on to a competitor. If they experience more relevant, personalised content and a pertinent offer there, they may never come back — however loyal to the brand they may have been previously.

Joining the dots

It is imperative, then, that retailers join up their customer data across all of their channels, so that branch staff know what customers have been doing online, and web pages work as an extension of interactions that may have begun elsewhere.

Although the majority of retailers appreciate the value of doing this, only a tiny minority have followed through. Market analyst Forrester notes that organisations have wanted to personalise their web marketing for as long as 15 years; what’s stopped them is simply that they haven’t known how to go about it. But now the building blocks exist to get them started, allowing them to model what customers do as they navigate a site’s web pages, and segment this data so it can be exploited in tailored promotions both on the web, either during a current or future session, or across other channels. Nirvana is a fully joined-up CRM solution that feeds into specific online offers.

As with all of these opportunities, the danger is that by hanging back and seeing what others do first, retailers risk losing the advantage to the competition, whose better-developed personalisation capabilities may have enabled them to move swiftly and offer a killer deal.

• Mark Simpson is the founder and managing director of conversion management and content optimisation specialists Maxymiser.

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