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What do UK shoppers really think about personalisation technologies?

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Two stories that illustrate UK consumers’ very different reactions to personalisation emerged this week. On the one hand, a (social) media storm erupted when it was reported that Tesco plans to use face-scanning screens in its garages to show relevant adverts to those waiting to pay, based on their age and gender.

On the other hand, a survey of online shoppers by the IDC and RichRelevance found that many value personalisation technologies. The study found that 53% of the UK consumers it quizzed said personalised product recommendations were clearly relevant to them, and 26% said personalisation made them more likely to return to shop at the same retailer. Timing, it seems, is also important, with 45% of UK consumers using recommendations because they are presented at the right time in the decision-making process. There’s more detail from the study here.

It seems to me that both of these two stories have something to tell us about personalisation and its impact on UK consumers.

Spencer Izard, head of European retail insights and executive advisory programme at IDC, had this to say about his company’s research. “It’s clear that accurate, well-timed recommendations, based on popular customer behaviour, deliver sales results for retailers and help retain customers. The research shows that personalisation is becoming one of the main competitive battlegrounds for online retailing, and retailers need to take it seriously.”

Meanwhile, Pontus Kristiansson, VP of marketing, EMEA at RichRelevance, said: “Now more than ever, retailers need to find ways to engage with their customers. By delivering shoppers relevant information they want, when they want it, personalisation drives customer loyalty, increased purchase and average basket value. Personalisation will continue to be a key differentiator for retailers in their battle for customer engagement and retention.”

True relevance, then, is key in making sure that personalisation works. In other words, it’s how you do it, as well as what you do, that makes the difference.

But taking a look at the comments where the story was reported, and retailers might find a different response. One typical commenter on the Guardian story described it as an “assault upon our privacy” from which people needed protection under the UN Declaration of Human Rights in a bid to stop every aspect of their lives being tracked and recorded.”

Meanwhile, commenters on the Telegraph’s account of the story objected to the use of “intrusive technology.”

Perhaps measured responses on both sites came from those who understood the way personalisation is already being used in areas from loyalty cards through to the newspaper websites themselves to show them both content and adverts.

It seems to me that the more measured response – from the 53% of UK shoppers who say it makes a positive difference – comes only when shoppers understand the use of the technology, and have a choice about whether it’s used or not. The fury of the face-scanning row seems to depend on the understanding that readers have of the news: that it is imposed, rather than a choice, and that the results may not be accurate.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.

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