Retailers are using personalization as a successful way to optimize customer engagement and acquisition, and in turn, generate long-term loyalty.
ETailers such as Amazon have pioneered in personalization by offering online shoppers product recommendations based on their past browsing and buying behaviors. However, as the breadth and depth of tools available to retailers continue to grow, marketers must determine the optimal mix of strategies based on their target audiences.
In the following interview, Jeffrey Hayzlett, bestselling author, global business and marketing expert, and former CMO of Kodak ― shares his views on how retailers can optimize their personalization efforts across all channels.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What role is personalization currently playing in the retail experience across all channels?
Hayzlett: Personalization seems to be leveraged more on the customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing interaction side.
Retail hardware stores are doing a great job of using personalization. For instance, if you visit a Lowe’s store and are looking for windows, I know you can tell them what windows you like and what kind of house you have and within days, you get a personalized layout of your house with the windows on it.
These hardware/home improvement retailers are great examples because with they have systems that can keep track of all of the purchases I’ve made, from nuts, to bolts, screws, windows, faucets and anything else. I can go online and look for products that complement the items I’ve already purchased. Or, if something breaks and I want that exact same product again, I know exactly what it was and where to find it. Having a place to go and receive information on what I’ve purchased recently — so I don’t have to go looking around to find it — is a great experience.
RTP: What other ways can retailers better track and understand consumer purchases and preferences? What impact does this have on personalization strategies?
Hayzlett: Staying in tune with what consumers are saying and where they are saying it definitely can help to personalize experiences. There are new platforms coming down the pike that are changing the shopping experience for consumers. For example, Chatalog is a social media site in which users can upload photos of products that they are considering purchasing. Then, they ask community members to weigh in, share their advice and offer other feedback regarding the specific item. Retailers that can find a way to leverage and enhance these user experiences will open up another opportunity for dialog with consumers.
RTP: How can retailers keep pace with consumer demands for more relevant product recommendations, messages and offers?
Hayzlett: Retailers can keep pace by listening and offering opportunities for consumers to share feedback on products and experiences. It is always good to let people comment on your products/services and for you to stand behind what you’re selling. There is nothing wrong with hearing the good, the bad and the ugly.
In some cases, retailers also must respond to customer feedback, especially if a review deals with an employee or specific experience. If you consistently see comments regarding a product, then you can say you are pulling the product or are going to speak with the manufacturer to address the issue.
Without question, it is imperative that retailers always have conversations with consumers on whatever channel they’re using; it gives them another way to interact with the customer who is spending money with them.
RTP: What other cross-channel personalization strategies are effective?
Hayzlett: Any way retailers can provide shoppers with access to past behaviors and preferences across channels — via mobile, online and other digital experiences — is absolutely fantastic.
In stores, retailers can offer frequent shoppers certain types of experiences or coupons that are delivered directly to mobile devices. As we get more into near field communication and mobile applications, merchants also will be able to implement flash sales and a whole host of other strategies. However, the key thing here is privacy, and we still don’t know the fine line that we can cross. We need to try and figure out what is appropriate in mobile, and shy away from what might be creepy.
For example, I’ve had experiences in which I’ve searched for a product, and for the next three weeks, that item shows up on my Facebook news feed, on every Amazon page and numerous other web pages. To me, that’s a little creepy. But at the same time, it is very effective marketing.
RTP: Do you have any tips or best practices regarding how retailers can develop a long-term personalization strategy that is compelling to target audiences?
Hayzlett: First and foremost, retailers need to start by answering the following questions:
- What are my values and what do I want to achieve today regarding the customer experience?
- How would these memorable browsing and buying journeys manifest in some shape or form of personalization?
Every customer would love to be greeted by name. How can you do that? Get to know them better. Well, how do you get to know them better? Study their data and learn their behaviors across channels. How do you identify them when they come in? Start with a frequent buyer card, a program and training. You have to look at what you want to achieve and how you want to tackle it. Then, you have to determine if that goal is feasible, achievable and in the end, effective. We all like the idea of recognizing every single customer that comes in, but can we truly do that efficiently and effectively?
RTP: What trends or strategies do you believe will come closer to the forefront in 2013?
Hayzlett: Customers have always wanted more relevant products and offers; the companies that listen and offer those types of excellent opportunities have grown exponentially. Retailers that can find optimal ways to engage and communicate across all channels will continue to see this success.
Just because we have more platforms to communicate and engage with consumers doesn’t mean that they are saying anything different than they were before the channels existed. Consumers have always tried to engage with us; we just weren’t listening.
Do we think that all of a sudden customers just woke up, took a magic pill and said they want to be treated better? In my opinion, the customer experience has gotten worse, and retailers are losing focus on giving good service. Put more people on the sales floor that can answer questions and interact with shoppers. By getting back to basics and providing excellent services, retailers can enhance the customer experience.
Jeffrey Hayzlett is a bestselling author, and global business and marketing expert who has worked in the C-suite for a variety of Fortune 100 companies, including Kodak. Hayzlett is a well-traveled public speaker, the author of the bestselling business books, The Mirror Test and Running the Gauntlet, and frequently has appeared on “Fox Business News,” MSNBC’s “Your Business,” “Bloomberg West” and NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” with Donald Trump.