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Personalisation for the individual

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Along time ago, when pop music was good, I played in bands, roadie-ed for bands, watched bands and hung out with bands. None of them became famous – even my own mother remembers none of the hits I wrote – but it was a time of personal connection and being there. The second or third summer of love. Even the mandolin was worth a listen.

That was before the wah-wah of customer engagement and the Fisherman’s Blues of digital marketing, the break-beat of knowing all about customers. Before the mystery went.

Today we live in an always-on world, under the all-seeing-eye of the web and the web predicts and tells you what you like. What you want. What you are.

This for me has become the over-riding theme of Internet Retailing Expo this year. The vendors exhibiting are awash with data and understanding of the customer. They know all we do, they predict all we do and serve up what we want to see.

But who wants that?

What of the mystery of turning, as George Michael used to say, a different corner and finding something totally new, surprising and the must have thing?

Maybe I am just feeling my age, but I was at the IRX 2017 party. It was so far from the raves, house parties and far out stuff I did back in the 20th Century that I couldn’t help but wonder if the ‘future’ we now live in is, well, a bit rubbish.

Back in the pre-digital age, not everything was great nor did it always work, but largely we made the best of it. Shopping, back then, was looking for far-out clothes to wear while doing this, or finding some way to stand out. IEven boring kitchen stuff from the market was ripe: a tea towel aligning me with the Sandinistas (must have been ok, The Clash said so, right?) or being confirmed into Marxism, because the guy who sold me milk on Lee High Road banged on about it.

The ultra-predictable route that we seem to be going down now runs the risk of killing this individualism – and taking the fun out of things.

But can the algorithms save us? While much of what I saw and heard at IRX2017 chilled me with its ‘predicting’ and ‘serving up’, I did talk to some people who sort of got that I, me, am an individual and aren’t necessarily looking for the easy way to shop, but want to find the off-beat; who wants to catch the light of the glinting oddness ‘over there’.

So it becomes a debate of two things: all retailers know they have to do personalisation, and then there are those that get that individualism is not akin to the personal. We can all wear a school uniform, only some of us will make it look good.

And this to me is what we should be striving for: retail needs to adapt and change, maybe it needs to look at what made it cool in the first place. It needs to automate and it needs to predict, but it all needs to get clever and start to look at the off-beat and the unusual. To paraphrase Monty Python, we are all individuals.


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