The secret to delivering the best in personalized service is for retailers to achieve a single, unified view of each individual shopper. The ultimate goal is a bespoke customer experience that they will enjoy online, in-store and everywhere else.

“Retailers looking to maintain or grow market share must predict where and how their customers will be buying, and seamlessly deliver online and in-store experiences for them,” Forbes stated earlier this month. “However, these experiences can’t be mass produced — today’s buyers want personalized interaction.”

The trick, however, is that personalization is about more than just crunching the data you can quantify, according to a panel of retail experts at NRF 2018. It’s also about harnessing the human element by gathering experiences from retail associates who have been in the trenches for years.

The Personalization Balancing Act

“When we talk about personalization, what we’re really talking about usually is content,” John Allen, chief technology officer of U.K.-based fast-fashion retailer Missguided, told the panel. “And the thing with content is that it needs to be created, curated, and managed.”

That includes ensuring that a retailer’s personalization efforts can cope with changes in customer behavior, such as shifting shopping platforms from desktops to mobile devices, according to Allen, who warned retailers not to go overboard. For example, don’t make your homepage so highly personalized that it dramatically slows performance, which can turn off shoppers.

“You’ve got to find that balance between the right kind of experience with content and the right experience in mobile,” Allen said. “[And] personalization doesn’t take into account that I’m a loyal customer, but last time I bought from you I had a really poor experience.”

Collecting (and Using) Data Wisely

“Personalization done wrong is potentially disastrous,” Evan Neufeld, Intelligence VP at New York-based business intelligence firm L2 Inc., told the panel. “So we need to be really, really careful about how we actually embrace digital personalization.”

Clever use of data is key here, but only about 11 percent of brands were collecting a lot of information and doing a lot of targeting, according to L2 research that Neufeld shared. Most retailers surveyed (52 percent) were neither collecting data nor personalizing, while the rest were either trying to personalize without data or just collecting data for in-store use.

“We want to see people moving to that quadrant where, if you’re capturing data, you’re deploying data — and that’s the biggest gap we saw,” Neufeld said. “It’s less about what you collect; it’s that if you collect it, you might as well use it — and if you don’t use it, you’re kind of having this weird relationship with consumers.”

The Dream of a Unified View

“There’s nothing worse than a bad ad, and there’s nothing worse than a mistargeted ad,” Neufeld said, holding up Amazon as an example of a brand that uses purchase history and an astute algorithm to make very sound product recommendations. “That’s the dream, but the reality is that we’re nowhere near this level of personalization across the Internet.”

Nor are we there in-store. Integrating different datasets is a challenge that all retailers face, according to Neufeld, but the hope is to one day achieve that unified view of the customer.

“All consumer research says that if I go into a Walmart, or I go into a Warby Parker, I want them to instantly know who I am online,” Neufeld said. “It really becomes about integrating systems so you have this whole continuous view of the customer.”

“Experiences of the Battle Worn”

“When we think of content, we think of creative, we think of branding, products and offers,” Missguided’s Allen said. “I think the future of personalization is not just about content; it’s about personalization of the experiential content, rather than just created content.”

Retailers often miss that point because they tend to favor quantitative data over qualitative, conversational data, the panel’s moderator, SAP Industry Value Lead for Digital Transformation John McCoy, told me in a video. It’s crucial that retailers incorporate the knowledge and experience of sales associates.

“Personalization … is also about gathering the experiences of the battle worn — those who have been there for a while — lived in it, breathed it, talked to customers in-store for the past however many years you’ve been in business,” McCoy said. “And then leveraging that data to ensure that your personalization has that human element.”


Click the button below to load the content from YouTube.


Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher

This story originally appeared on Business Trends on the SAP Community.