From gifts to groceries, we’re now all smarter, more efficient shoppers.
As online retailers get to know our preferences, saving us time and hassle in the process, our data is arguably doing our shopping for us. Gartner reports that the number of businesses adopting AI technologies has grown by 270% in the last four years.
For brands, personalisation is now much more than getting our name right. Now we can search outfits on Pixyle.ai then try them on in virtual dressing rooms, fend off Barclays’ personalised loan messages, while the friendly ‘bots at Hello Fresh are busy editing our personal meal plan. Today’s tailored tech makes putting a name on a Coke bottle look like child’s play.
Meanwhile, as AI personalisation moves from URL to IRL (that’s ‘In Real Life’ for those living their lives in the real world) the high street is adapting to consumers’ new expectations. A recent report by Metro Bank predicts the growth of ‘micro communities’ - villages where services, shops and facilities are built around smart neighbourhoods and local community projects, rather than traditional retail square footage. As leading brand owners such as Mondelez increasingly use localised advertising, this blend of AI and ‘hyperlocal’ looks set to grow.
So far, so slick. However, apart from the prevailing issues around data privacy, what other ways can brands build closer connections to individual consumers - or perhaps be more personable rather than just personalised? After all, brands don’t need to become stalkers, following us from the store to our front door, to do this.
Here’s what you need to be thinking about:
1 Mooch vs Mission
The other side of retail is browsing and discovery - ‘mooching’ around a store without a clear mission, or what Google calls the ‘messy middle’ of purchase behaviour. Recognising this fallible human element - being in flight mode - offers brands the chance to create an experience driven by the visitor. At The Clearing, we worked with online shopping experience, Ownable, to create an innovative, open-plan online shop which acts as an antidote to the formulaic, list-based approach of other ecommerce sites. Presenting home interiors brands in a more intuitive way where shoppers can wander around and follow what catches their eye, Ownable brings what’s best about browsing a real world shop into a digital environment.
Used this way, personalisation isn’t just about driving the consumer along a directive path to purchase, but facilitating their ability to choose and dwell, so it feels like the consumer is in control.
2 Go Deeper
While some retailers personalise purely on loyalty points or use data to send emailers that recommend products, it’s becoming more common for brands to use data to actually meet consumers’ personal needs. Rising start-up Skin + Me creates skin treatments that are individualised to reflect each customer's skin type and aims, so they feel like they’re actually receiving the benefits of sharing their data, not just being sold to.
Sustainable footwear brand Rothy’s is not only asking its customers to ‘Vote Back’ discontinued lines, it changed its whole production cycle to accommodate customer feedback, managing its own dedicated factory. Rothy’s supply chain is a key part of its brand, and this change enables them to show customers that the business is listening.
3. Build Connections
The success of customised brand experiences lies in the level of ‘human’ interaction and connection between brand and consumer. For example, Spotify Wrapped doesn’t just track your music listening, it celebrates it, in a way that makes listeners look forward to their data round-up every year.
As more brands enter multiverse platforms, where the experience is often literally built around the user, these give the user a feeling of greater autonomy over their experience. At this level of personalisation, consumers are offered new ways of trialling, experimenting and acquiring brands as NFTs of similar digital assets. Brands such as Clinique have developed meta platforms to campaign for inclusivity in skincare and cosmetics, whereas Gucci Town draws on a gaming metaverse experience, sharing both the brand’s heritage and web3 storytelling.
Consumers have always valued brands they know and trust, and these deeper data-driven personalisation methods can be an effective way to fast-track building a relationship with your consumers – but the way you do it should be about bringing your brand identity to life, not just hopping on the latest trend. It’s increasingly key to how customers perceive your brand – as futurist Richard Watson recently commented, 'Expect a new interest in things that are deeply human'.
So where’s the opportunity?
More meaningful personalisation and data-driven brand strategies are now a necessity. However, when it comes to online retail, the real opportunity for brands is to move from a ‘push and pull’ marketing experience to one that’s more flexible or elastic, and where customisation expands the scope of the product or service for the customer. So the more creative you are with personalisation, the more impact it will have for your brand - whatever you do, it should be a far cry from putting a person's name at the top of your newsletter.