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GUEST OPINION Excuse me sir, I thought you’d like this dress…

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You’d be a bit miffed to be offered inappropriate goods in person, so why settle for it online? Mike Harris, VP EMEA at Monetate argues that context is key to getting in-store and online right

You’re shopping in-store and a seemingly helpful sales assistant approaches you. She hands you a little black dress and suggests some heels to match – ‘excuse me sir, would you like to buy this outfit?’

Now in an in-store environment, this would be a ridiculous and somewhat embarrassing scenario for all involved, as plainly the retailer is choosing to disregard visible pointers to the products that the consumer is likely to be interested in, much to the bewilderment of the shopper. So, why are the majority of retailers still offering this same un-tailored, one-size-fits-all approach when buying online?

Go back to basics

Just like in-store, the online shopping experience should be catering to each individual’s behaviours, tastes and preferences. Retailers need to know the intention and desired outcome behind every single interaction with their brand, helping the drive towards delivering 1-to-1 experiences. Failure to consider this not only annoys customers, but is likely to have them turning to competitors for a better online experience – a risk that no brand can afford to take.

Despite retailers recognising the importance of a personalised customer experience, many are still overlooking the most basic of elements, such as things as simple as gender targeting. If you log-on to your favourite site, it’s likely you’ll be shown products under both ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories. This is partly due to the misconception by brands, that they don’t have the right data to personalise their online experience.

Whether contextual (time of day, location or referral source), behavioural (recently viewed products or abandoned baskets) or historical (past purchases) or CRM data (loyalty programmes), almost all retailers are collecting the kind of data that can then be used to provide a more tailored, meaningful experience. This means brands can ensure they aren’t offering the wrong products, to the wrong people, at the wrong time.

Initially it might appear that physical stores have an advantage here as obvious factors such as customer gender are brought to their attention as soon as they set foot in a shop. But, there’s no excuse for online brands to still get it wrong. In fact, online shoppers frequently have a much more detailed footprint with customer profiles building as more interactions take place. Using this data can ultimately mean the difference between a customer completing the full path-to-purchase, or leaving empty handed.

Think; does this customer want this product?

Obviously brands won’t always know the answer to this, but through collecting and analysing the relevant data points you can certainly get a much better idea. Now that you have the customer insight, it’s time to use it wisely. In physical stores, staff have the advantage of engaging in conversation with each customer to find out exactly what they are looking for, working more collaboratively to then offer the right products and services. While this isn’t the same online, customers are constantly giving retailers information to help them provide a more streamlined offering; retailers’ just need to ensure they use the information in the right way.

Taking into consideration previous interactions means you’re well on your way to building an experience customers are more likely to be interested in and engage with. For example, if the data suggests a shopper has recently been looking at dresses but has yet to make a purchase, reminding them of recently viewed items whilst displaying alternatives for which you know the consumer has brand affinity can deliver great results. Add in a countdown timer, marking cut-off for next day delivery to add urgency to the transaction and you now have a more relevant, compelling experience with an added incentive to convert. But there’s no need to stop here. Why not suggest some heels, jewellery and a bag to complete the look? Those retailers that take note of the customer’s preferences and personalise the individual experience, benefit from improved engagement, increased conversions and have happier customers, who also display more loyalty.

Context and Channel

To further contrast our in-store example, retailers need to use their data to ensure they are delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. In comparison to physical retail, where the shop assistant needs to discover whether the consumer is in researching, browsing or buying mode, savvy retailers can use the data they have to help them identify where consumers are on the purchase journey. One in five shoppers complete purchases over seven hours after first visiting a site[1] which frequently start on mobile and end on a desktop, so brands must offer experiences accordingly and create a consistent path across all channels.

This is where real-time data comes into play, allowing retailers to offer smart options to shoppers to drive add-to-basket rates and boost conversions. For example, you can use geo-targeting, location-based data, combined with local weather forecasts, to show relevant products to customers in different places, whether it be raincoats or sandals.

Products and timing are important but it’s just the beginning of creating a truly personalised experience. As customers continue to shop online, retailers should aim for an ultimate one-to-one experience that involves anticipating customer needs and delivering a relevant, personalised experience in every moment and based on the data collected.

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