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Strategic Overview: The personal touch

We all value the kind of personal service where a sales assistant takes the time to find out what we want to buy and offers expert advice. To date, while great strides have been made by retailers such as Amazon, this kind of retail has been difficult to recreate on the web. That’s because retailers often don’t know much about who’s buying from them when a sale is made electronically, something that’s built into the DNA of the web.

As Poq Studio’s Oyvind Henriksen points out: “You’re supposed to be able to be anonymous when you’re on the web, to the extent they even have EU legislation forcing you to have a cookie law when everyone knows they’re being tracked.”

“The smartphone is already acting as our avatar in this digital world” — Jess Stephens, SmartFocus

In contrast, a smartphone isn’t just a small computer that allows you to make calls and send messages. “Our personal supercomputer, the smartphone, is already acting as our avatar in this digital world,” says Jess Stephens of SmartFocus. There’s an intrinsic conceptual difference here. Because a smartphone is so personal, an item we carry around, we seem relaxed about the idea of letting it represent us.

For retailers, this opens up intriguing possibilities. Let’s take the scenario of a customer carrying a smartphone who walks into a store where he or she has already signed up for the retailer’s app. This is a customer who has opted in to dealing with the retailer, and is far more likely to be receptive to receiving sales messages and offers. That’s especially true if the retailer is able to tailor these messages based on previous purchases. It’s still early days here yet, but this kind of geolocation-specific personalisation is potentially hugely powerful, especially as it becomes allied to easier payments via mobile.

This isn’t just an area where individual retailers are doing work. Property developer Hammerson, which specialises in retail, is rolling out its Plus app across all its shopping centres, including such prime locations as Brent Cross in North London and Cabot Circus in Bristol. The app uses Bluetooth beacons and geolocation technology to send shoppers personalised content, plus offers that are relevant to previous browsing, previously redeemed offers and the stores they’ve visited.

The aim is to drive both footfall and loyalty, and it’s no coincidence the company is also active on social media, which it uses, for example, to promote events designed to draw in customers. It also offers free wi-fi and click-and-collect services.

So what do customers think of such initiatives? As the economy gradually emerges from recession, Hammerson’s pre-tax profits in the year to 31 December 2014 were £703. 1m, more than double the £341.2m it reported the previous year. While this can hardly be said to be the result of its cross-channel and personalisation initiatives, these initiatives are nevertheless a crucial part of the mix when it comes to encouraging consumers to visit the company’ s shopping centres.

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