Harnessing the Power of Personalisation

Discovering the benefits of a tailored ecommerce experience

This is the first article in a three-part series on planning and implementing effective ecommerce personalisation strategies.

It is an ineluctable fact: 2020 was a very tough year for retail, with global store closures and economic pressures forcing businesses and consumers to reframe their habits, rethink their spending patterns, and stay strategically cautious about a volatile and ever-shifting future.

Sophie Wilson
Digital Consultant for Astound Commerce

But simultaneously, ecommerce rose to the challenge. In the first half of 2020—with most physical stores closed and customers stuck at home—we saw five years of growth in online market share in a matter of weeks. Fast-forward to the end of lockdown: stores are reopening, but we see that footfall remains down, perhaps signalling a new, permanent change in the channel hierarchy. Ecommerce, it seems, may no longer be the smallest child in the multichannel family: digital has grown up and earned its place at the big table. 

The major question: how do we hold onto that advantage, using our accumulated knowledge to give customers the digital experience and enhanced shopping journeys they need? For an increasing number of retailers, a digital-first approach—with data at the heart—is the answer.  

Personalisation is a key tenet of any leading digital-first marketing game plan. Supported by a relevant strategy, consistent customer data and insights, and the right technology choices, a personalised experience across your multichannel journey could be the factor that marks the difference between you and your competitors—indeed, between success and failure—in these challenging times. 

It’s possible your personalisation journey needs to start small and expand over time to align with maturing customer data capability—or maybe you’re ready to tackle a ground-up transformation. Astound Commerce is here to help you analyse your current capabilities and refine your vision, identifying both the personalisation quick-wins that are immediately available and the best path to long-term capability.

Whatever your approach, a better understanding of your customers is essential in giving them what they need at an individual level, and it’s also a near-guaranteed route to higher net present value (NPV), better conversion, and a competitive edge. 

Are You Ready to Get Personal?

We’re going to lay it out here.

Personalisation is not a technological plug-in. It’s not (only) a feature of your ecommerce platform. It’s not a name on a mug, or a feature of a mail merge, or even a set of recommended products on your homepage. Personalisation is a concept, and a complex one at that. So, before you embark on your personalisation strategy, it’s worth taking time to understand both its potential benefits and its pitfalls.

Like any core concept of ecommerce, personalisation can set your offering apart from the pack, delivering a superior customer experience that differentiates you from your competition. But to unleash its power, you have to understand and enable it. 

If you are prepared to embrace personalisation at its purest, most strategic, and most effective level, you must be ready to take significant steps to truly understand your customer. Conventional personalisation based on customer segmentation has been superseded by AI-driven, sophisticated propensity and behaviour modelling—a technology that enables 1:1 experiences, recommendations, elevated engagements, and intuitive communication with users across multichannel touchpoints. 

Good personalisation should manifest throughout your customer experience, letting the user customise their journey to suit their shopping style and needs—either overtly through selecting preferences to establish product selection (“Always show me women’s styles”) or automatically through AI (“We know you have this shirt in green—here it is in blue”). 

Personalisation is not bespoke product creation or customisable products, and it’s not loyalty programs or auto-filled forms (all of which have their place in a world-class ecommerce proposition). 

Personalisation in the modern age of omnichannel ecommerce draws from all available data points, leading to the expansion of your CRM capabilities and allowing the creation of a sophisticated and unique picture of each user that evolves with each interaction, in any channel. This is a far cry from the “customers who bought this also bought this” algorithm of the past and allows for a subtler, gentler marketing message—one that can be far more effective than any earlier approach. It’s up to you how far to take it.

Take Aim

Before you leap into the affray, first take stock of your objectives. You need a clear idea of your overall aims to pick the right solutions. It may also be hard to convince your board on appropriate investments—which means opportunities can be missed in the interim. The personalisation technology market is full of enticing, shiny technology. Some tools will work for you, but some won’t—and that’s the challenge. If you have a defined set of objectives that align to your business strategy, it’ll be far easier for you to decide which capabilities you can and can’t live without. 

Not only do you need a clear grasp on the value that personalisation brings to your organisation—you also need to understand how personalised ecommerce fits with your overall customer proposition. 

What will work for your customer? First, do you understand your core and most valued personas? How important is privacy to them? What suits an Amazon customer browsing for garden tools will not charm a financial customer in the market for a new Unit Trust.  

Do you play to a millennial demographic that expects personalisation, adapting quickly as their preferences evolve? Or is your primary persona over 65, rich in both time and cash? Older consumers are increasingly shopping online and are not afraid to complain when the process isn’t straightforward or relevant to them. In 2020, 58 percent of people aged 65 or over stepped up their use of technology in direct response to the pandemic; Baby Boomers are now a technologically savvy generation that is shopping regularly online, using video chat and engaging in online learning and socialising. 

By understanding your customer and modelling the journeys for your key personas, you will be able to identify whether you need to seek 1:1 personalisation or segment-driven targeted content. 

What does your business need to achieve? Go back to your business key performance indicators (KPIs). Is average order value or lifetime value more important? Are you looking to grow brand reach or increase frequency of purchase?

It may be that your personalisation strategy is part of a retail transformation programme, one focused on taking a digital-first approach or moving you to an omnichannel proposition. Whatever your corporate direction, personalisation can fundamentally shift the way your customer interacts with you. It must be consistent across channels, and it must simplify the journey between touchpoints while remaining mindful of privacy concerns.

How ready are you? Meaningful personalisation drives results through the power of data. Your organisation must be ready to define, capture, manage, and utilise the customer information that your personalisation tools require. Is your single view of the customer already in place—or in sight, at least? And is your data capture compliant, scalable, and consistent across all channel touchpoints?

Your personalisation strategy should be supported by a clear customer data management practice, assurance in compliance, and confidence in the resilience of your customer identity and asset management (CIAM) approach and platform. This is especially important if you are trading across territories and want to apply customer data across all locations. Indeed, it is hard to devise effective personalisation strategies without thoroughly analysing your company's approach to creating and managing a single view of your customer.

In the next article, we will outline productive approaches for implementing a personalisation strategy.


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