Personalization Pitfalls for Retailers


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“Any car you want…as long as it’s black.”

Personalization has come a long way since the days of Henry Ford. Nowadays, retailers are all about satisfying a customer’s personal preferences, and personalizing their stores to suit a customer’s needs.
However, as more and more companies adopt personalized marketing for their online stores, many have discovered that there are a lot of ways to go wrong with it, if they aren’t careful. If you’re a smart, these pitfalls can be easy to avoid, but make one mistake, and you might end up costing your company customers, or causing a media flurry.

Here are some things to avoid when implementing a personalized retail experience:

Being Creepy:
Once of the key issues today’s marketers face is walking the fine line between being personal and being stalkerish. A recent survey by Accenture shows that less than half of shoppers would like it if the store told them to buy something just according to their demographic. Those surveyed felt uncomfortable if a store told them that they shouldn’t buy food online because of their dietary restrictions or that they shouldn’t buy items outside their budget at big ticket stores!

Brainless Programming:
Say you’re shopping for some frying pans. You find a decent one for a fair price, and buy it. Seconds later, a pop up appears showing twenty other brands of frying pans. That’s a brainless algorithm, not personalization. Customers need relevant items, like utensils, cooking ingredients, and different kinds of pots and pans. Amazon does this quite well, by showing what other users bought along with a certain purchase. For this reason many in retail marketing are using the word “relevancy” as opposed to personalization.

Not Knowing your Customers:
Some time ago, Pinterest sent out emails to single women who followed a number of wedding blogs, congratulating them on their upcoming weddings. Problem was, many of them weren’t getting married. Avoid Pinterest’s mistake, and be sure you know who you are talking to before sending out specific communication. An intelligent analytics engine can help you have the full picture and ensure your ads are both timely and relevant.

Being Insensitive:
It is important to view your marketing messages from the consumer perspective. Being oblivious to public sentiment can often be very damaging to your brand as American Apparel found out. During Hurricane Sandy, the retailer offered discounts shopping online for those stuck inside during the storm, using the disaster for their marketing purposes. Needless to say, consumers were not impressed.

Data Errors:
Last year, Shutterfly, an image publishing service, sent out emails to users congratulating them on their new baby. After several bemused childless users went on Twitter to complain, Shutterfly later apologized for the mistaken mass mailing, saying that their intention was to only target customers “who recently purchased baby announcements with us.”

Today’s marketing managers have advanced and intelligent tools to provide them with a clearer picture of customers and their needs than ever before. But unless these tools are tempered with the intent to provide better service (as opposed to merely selling more), we’re likely to see more pitfalls than possibilities in the future.

Ajith Nayar
As a marketer, I've keenly watched the retail and consumer trends for a couple decades. But never has it been more exciting than now. Because everything we used to know about shopping is changing, and fast. As consumers, it's great to be at the center of this technology-led evolution, because it's unfolding in our everyday lives. I'm happy to share my views on related trends and issues. You'll see me writing on the digitally empowered consumer, shopper behavior and marketing, consumerization of retail, internet of things, analytics technologies, cloud computing and digital marketing.


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