How Can Personalized Recommendations Transcend Channels?

Omni-channel retail is here to stay. Both the promise and the challenge of commerce through multiple channels (in-store, online, mobile-commerce, direct mail, etc.) are well understood by retailers looking to grow their market share. However, in this rapidly shifting retail landscape, consumers are still giving their business — and their hard-earned dollars — to the retailers they believe are more service-oriented and customer-focused. They’re buying from companies who know them AND offer great deals and great selection of the products they really want.

Given where consumers spend their dollars, I’m struck that personalized recommendations  delivered to consumers online are not more widely embraced across all channels in the retail space. Right now, data shows that only half of the Top 500 online retailers are using personalization techniques. Our own results show that personalization can drive 10% in incremental sales. This begs the question, why is such an effective approach not more widely embraced across all groups in a retail organization? And why are personalized recommendations not used more widely across all marketing channels?

Think about your favorite in-store experience. The one where a salesperson on the floor makes suggestions, provides feedback, and helps you find what you need. You shop there consistently for a reason. That “personal shopper” model can be replicated across other touch points as well, whether it be online, via email, or even in catalogs. But retailers few and far between actually provide this experience across touch points.


Personalized recommendations don’t just benefit those managing e-commerce, the results can have a positive impact across the company. The increase in sales for the e-retail channel ultimately assures their groups are recognized and respected for their overall contributions, including the influence that e-commerce has on brick-and-mortar sales. According to studies, this contribution will only increase. A January 2012 survey of 94 retailers by Retail Systems Research found that 63% of multichannel retailers expect the online channel to account for a sharp increase in their total sales by 2015.

To understand the power of recommendations let’s explore who, on the retail side of the equation, can benefit from personalized recommendations.  The key roles include:

  • Merchandisers who oversee the presentation of products. They’re attuned to seasonality, product inventory and demand and can use recommendations not only online but in other less-traditional touch points, such as in-store kiosks and other Point-of-Sale opportunities.
  • Marketers who want to create brand loyalists and advocates can harness personalized emails to present recommendations and drive repeat visits both online and in-store. This is also an opportunity to re-engage lapsed customers as well.
  • Customer Relationship Management maintains customer data and constantly seeks to reengage and nurture customers while creating loyalty across channels. Personalized recommendations can be deployed online, via email, in mobile-commerce environments and even in-store, if there is a way to tap into online customer activity at the cash register or in a call center environment.
  • Information Technology leaders want to assure that solutions deployed are usable across multiple touch points with minimal or no impact on resources and technology assets for both integration and maintenance. Further, they want to protect a most valuable asset — customer data — while enabling the use of this data across all channels where it makes sense. A solution that can seamlessly elevate product recommendations across channels is vital.
  • Store (Brick-and-Mortar) Management wants foot traffic and sales per square foot. They may rely on marketing and other sources (online) to drive shoppers to the door. That’s obvious, but what they really want is any information they can use to make a sale.  Imagine how powerful it would be if a prospective customer walks into the store and by swiping a loyalty card or entering their online user ID and password a salesperson in-store could get a glimpse of their online behavior — what recommendations they clicked on online or what products they researched — and guide them to those same products that may be in-stock or on sale in the store. Integrating online data into the offline world has endless opportunities. 
  • The CEO wants to assure that all the groups are working in concert to assure customers are being seamlessly serviced and sales are increasing profitably across each channel. If any function in retail leadership can understand and appreciate the contributions that a comprehensive personalized recommendation strategy can deliver, it’s the CEO.

According to Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, “Personalization is critical, essential, and growing in importance because as merchants really want to grow conversion, giving the customer a targeted experience through personalization is more effective.” Here at ChoiceStream CONNECT, we wholeheartedly agree. We’re actually seeing all of these various retail management elements playing a greater role in both sourcing and choosing a recommendation solution and we don’t see that trend ending. 

With over 61% of retailers saying personalization is among the most important merchandising tactics in web retailing (according to the 10th Annual e-tailing group Merchant Survey) and with web retailing rising in importance (some estimates are that e-commerce will account for 20% to 30% of total retail sales in the U.S. in as little as five years), it’s little wonder that leading retailers are embracing personalized recommendations, and considering ways to integrate recommendations across each touch point. As a result, the question to your retail organization shouldn’t be what particular channels are best for personalization, but when should we get started.

Millie Park is the Vice President & General Manager for ChoiceStream. She is responsible for the ChoiceStream CONNECT business and oversees account management, professional services, analytics, and sales and marketing. Park joined ChoiceStream as an Account Manager responsible for ChoiceStream’s key retail and media clients. Before joining ChoiceStream, she served as Director of Planning and Analysis and Account Director for e-Dialog, where she was responsible for many of the company’s premier accounts, including the National Football League, Dell,, Footlocker, and Dicks Sporting Goods.

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