If retailers want to capture the attention of savvy consumers, they need to provide personalized experiences across channels. However, providing these experiences remains a key challenge for businesses of all sizes and across categories.
For the most part, retailers understand the role of personalization in the buying process. In fact, as many as 83% of retail marketers think they do a satisfactory job in personalizing experiences for consumers, according to research from Adobe. Customers do not necessarily agree, and there is a wide personalization gap between both sides. In fact, the same survey indicates that only 29% of consumers feel retailers effectively offer them personalized content or offers.
While the retail industry certainly has its share of catching up to do, Alex and Ani and Old Navy are examples of retailers that have managed to close this personalization gap by pleasing shoppers with promotions that not only deliver content, but also compelling social sharing experiences.
Understanding The Personalization Gap
To close the personalization gap, retailers must first recognize the issues that prevent them from connecting with individual consumers. There are three major challenges for businesses looking to personalize content and campaigns, according to a 2014 survey from Experian Data Quality:
Gaining insight quickly enough (40%);
Having enough data (39%); and
Inaccurate data (38%).
Only 23% of organizations cite their inability to access information as a major challenge to personalization, which suggests that many businesses do not have difficulty gathering data, but simply have trouble doing so in a timely manner. Lacking a data collection method may have a hand in why only 39% of retailers send personalized product recommendations via email, according to research from Certona.
But today’s consumers are not shy about their interest in receiving product recommendations across channels, making it more imperative that retailers improve their data collection strategies. Four out of every five American consumers who read promotional emails find it helpful when retailers send emails featuring products based on past purchases, while 71% find it helpful when they receive messages based on online browsing behavior, according to a Listrak survey.
The Listrak report also indicated that shoppers value online retargeting ads featuring products they previously viewed on a retailer’s web site (69%). Nearly the same amount of shoppers (67%) said they want to receive product recommendations while they are shopping on a retailer’s web site.
“These numbers are an incredible testament to the effectiveness of using purchase and browse behavior data in predictive algorithms to present shoppers with timely, relevant products that they have the highest propensity to buy,” said Ross Kramer, CEO of Listrak. “Shoppers are on-the-go and often time-challenged, and the number and variety of products online can be daunting, so they truly value when a retailer shows its familiarity with their individual personal preferences, current interests and purchase history to present them with products they are mostly likely to be interested in and want to purchase.”
Alex And Ani Extends Personalization Across All Channels
It is now imperative that retailers show they recognize and understand consumers at each stage of the buying process. Consider the case of jewelry retailer Alex and Ani, which began as a single retail store in Rhode Island and experienced 5,200% percentage revenue growth in three years. The retailer now ranks 53 on the 2014 Inc. 5000 and brought in approximately $230 million in revenue in 2014.
Ryan Bonifacino, VP of Digital Strategy at Alex and Ani, credits much of the company’s success to its understanding that consumers with many different shopping tastes and life interests can still buy from the same jewelry brand. He also credits the retailer’s ability to personalize throughout the consumer journey and beyond the e-Commerce site.
“We like to say we are applicable and appealing to every single household in America with a female wrist,” Bonifacino said during a presentation at the Adobe Summit. “When it comes to all things digital, it’s not just e-Commerce, it’s the experience or the empowerment side of our app, it’s the education and it’s our digital marketing channels speaking in sequence. Having the ability to understand exactly who people are — and not in a creepy way, but make it easier to shop — was our biggest challenge.”
The retailer has partnered with numerous organizations, such as the NFL, MLB and college sororities to make the product more appealing to all audiences and “understand who that person is so we don’t turn them off,” according to Bonifacino. Because the company looked to expand its reach across all sales channels — wholesale, brick-and-mortar and e-Commerce — it gathered data to personalize orders beyond the web site. Gathering data on an ongoing basis enables Alex and Ani to share insights with wholesale partners that sell the brand’s jewelry.
Over time, Alex and Ani has successfully deployed data-driven strategies that many retailers also aim to implement. As many as 50% of retailers use customer spending data from outside their own retail store to understand consumer shopping habits, and 79% agree that understanding customer spending outside their brick-and-mortar locations would be a tremendous marketing tool, according to research from COLLOQUY.
“To have the ability to personalize not only with our digital efforts, but across our sales channels, is an extremely complex effort,” Bonifacino explained. “We cannot simply rely, as a retailer, on an IT department to handle that for us at this stage.”
Alex and Ani also benefits from building experiences online. In fact, the retailer has its own company blog and a social hub that enables consumers and fans alike to share and display photos of their “bangle” bracelets on the site. Additionally, the site frequently presents lookbooks based on numerous collections, enabling consumers to view products similar to how they would read about them in a publication. If a consumer signs up with the retailer through email, they will receive detailed content personalized to their tastes, whether it involves product recommendations based on prior online visits and purchases, or messages reminding them to complete a purchase they never completed.
Old Navy Gets Social To Connect With Millennials
While Alex and Ani continues its growth in all sales channels, Old Navy has focused on increasing relationships with specific consumer segments in 2015. The apparel retailer has been taking the initiative to engage its Millennial audience via the content marketing campaign “On the Road with Emily and Merritt” launched through Tumblr and its parent company, Yahoo. The campaign combines video and display advertising to market the retailer’s seasonal Spring fashion lineup for women, complete with endorsements from brand ambassadors Emily Current and Meritt Elliott.
The Old Navy Tumblr page is the centerpiece where all social content is gathered, enabling consumers to merge the online shopping and social experiences. In promoting different apparel and accessories through articles and images, the retailer can influence consumers to purchase, mix and match items that appeal directly to their personal tastes. In turn, consumers with their own personal Tumblr pages can re-blog the content, while Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest users can share posts with friends and followers.
Old Navy is the first retailer to leverage Yahoo Splash Ads, which can display videos and hi-res images on the Yahoo Style digital magazine. These ads can boost purchase intent and product visibility during a shopper’s browsing experience. The brand also places native advertisements within the Yahoo network, so that shoppers using the Yahoo web site can interact with Tumblr sponsored posts that include fashion styles and tips through the season. The campaign is set to conclude at the end of April 2015.
Since this content marketing plan directly promotes products through custom content pieces, shoppers can visualize the clothing and products in real time. As many as 90% of consumers find custom content useful, while 78% of customers perceive they have a current relationship between themselves and a company using custom content, according to content marketing agency McMurry/TMG.
Tackling The Cross-Channel Personalization Challenge
While a majority of merchants are presently implementing a form of content personalization through a single channel, there are a fair number of retailers who have yet to deploy a personalized experience across all channels. Up to 86% of marketers personalize the e-Commerce retail experience, according to Adobe, however, only 69% personalize elements of the store. Just over half (56%) have rolled out a personalized the mobile experience.
Although many retailers are still learning how to personalize experiences on every channel, select businesses have illustrated that with the proper training, technology and strategies, retailers can successfully connect with individual customers, and achieve personalization at scale.