Over recent years the term ‘personalisation’ has become a much discussed topic but there appears to be industry confusion on the subject. UK retailers have a tendency to believe that personalisation and relevance are the same, they are not.
My view is that retailers need to keep the terms ‘relevance’ and ‘personalisation’ separate. Personalisation is just one piece of the full relevance jigsaw; focusing on this alone is not enough. Although there is a clear dependence between the terms they are not synonyms.
Relevance is defined by the context of information exchanged between two parties. Personal preferences or ‘personalisation’ is only one of the sources that can affect the context in a dialogue, but the scope of relevance in context is by far more extensive than just personal preferences. The challenge of relevance lies within the ability to embrace, manage and unify all of these dimensions into one simple answer for a user in order to fully optimise the customer experience.
In short, rather than merely providing a ‘personalised’ journey on an ecommerce site, the entire customer experience needs to track the shopper intelligently and identify exactly what is of optimum relevance at each and every separate interaction from the second they land on your site.
Currently, websites often don’t facilitate this. In the background there are usually lots of different vendors delivering components and pieces of technology that are not complimentary and don’t work together to share data intelligently. So, when a customer lands on a retailer’s site, the technology isn’t cohesive and provides a frustrating experience for customers.
In order to fully optimise the opportunity of ‘relevance’ there needs to be a unified approach to technology rather than these disparate systems struggling to work together. In order to be truly relevant you need the full data story and history of a customer. This means that each and every time they land on your site you know what they like from their previous activity, and, often more importantly, what they don’t like.
Designing an interaction, not a website
Your website is a small shop window of your business so online retailers need to focus on the space available to them and make sure it is as optimised as it can possibly be. Every square millimetre of your online estate matters and can drive revenue if you are using intelligent behavioural insight in real-time.
Naturally, humans visually ‘cluster’ objects cognitively and buyers are motivated to make a sale owing to this. By providing the online customer with a cluster of similar items to what they are currently presented with on-screen will boost sales and provide a more optimised, successful customer experience.
Online vs in-store
Often asked whether the online experience will ever overthrow the in-store experience, Michael’s views are clear.
The online and in-store environments are entirely different channels with their own characteristics and successful retailers will learn to understand each channel, its opportunities and its weaknesses and merchandise accordingly.
Without a doubt e-commerce will become even more specialised in future years and teams of online merchandisers will have to become even more scientific in their outlook and skillset to take advantage of the online opportunities available to them, but ultimately customers visiting your store, and those shopping on your site should be treated personally and, more importantly, relevantly each and every time they visit your site, whether that be on their desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.
Merchandising predictions of the future
With computers becoming the dominant force of retail, I believe in five years’ time over 90 per cent of the virtual shopping experience will be automated by computers, with new technologies considered an absolute necessity rather than ‘futuristic’ as they are now.
I also believe that technology will take over a large proportion of roles that human beings currently have in retail departments, meaning online merchandisers and their teams will need to become much more specialised to manage this and take full advantage of the technology available to them.
A scientific approach to retail will become a normalised practice, and although I predict a skills-gap in the immediate future to fulfil these roles, we are already seeing specific academic courses to facilitate the need for scientific brains to drive the future of online retail.
To fully reach the potential of their online capabilities, online merchandising teams need to become empowered by harnessing the power of the intelligent technology available to them in order to make more informed and revenue-driving decisions.
This professional autonomy and the acceptance of technology, alongside organisational maturity will be the key competitive advantages of successful online retailers; enabling them to take an informed, flexible and receptive approach to online retail, maximising the opportunities of computer science.
E-commerce is about evolution, not revolution. The most successful retailers are already one step ahead.
Michael Mokhberi has been intrinsic to the computer science and online search and merchandising markets for almost 20 years and has a reputation as a visionary in the sector, being asked to speak at leading events and universities across the world on how using computer science can affect the commercial value of a retailer’s website.
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