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Most Retailers Haven't Mastered Personalization Yet

A growing number don't offer incentives for shoppers to share personal details

Much has been written about value exchange and the push-pull of consumers' willingness to give up personal info for personalization, offers or other supposed special treatment. Many US internet users, however, are reluctant to reveal anything more than their name and email address to marketers.

At the minimum, a retailer should be able to discern and differentiate a consumer at some point during a shopping journey. An April 2018 BRP (Boston Retail Partners) survey of retailers in North America found very different capacities for identifying customers in-store vs. online. That’s not completely surprising since digital activity has been easier historically to track than behavior in-store.

The bulk of customer identification in-store happens at checkout, cited by 57% of respondents. One-fifth of retailers said they couldn't ID a customer in-store at all, while 13% said they can ID a customer when they enter the store. Online customer identification is a different story. Just 10% of retailers said they can’t ID a digital shopper. And the percentage of retailers that can deduce a shopper’s identity is evenly split among when they enter the site, pre-checkout and at checkout (30% apiece).

When retailers were asked what types of incentives they offered to get consumers to share personal details, personalized service came out on top, cited by 37% of respondents. Product incentives was next, at 30%. Less conventional was credit toward future purchases (13%) and access to in-store tech like dressing rooms enabled with “smart” mirrors (23%). It’s notable, though, that 37% of retailers said they do not offer consumers any incentives. This was up from 18% in last year’s survey, which indicates retailers are seeing less value in collecting customer information.

It's also possible that retailers are not mastering execution yet. When asked about personalized services offered, none of the options presented were implemented and functioning satisfactorily. Only 10% of retailers said product suggestions based on past purchases or gleaned preferences, personalized promotions and personalized digital content were working well. For all those initiatives, which are dependent on customer data and analytics, a larger number had implemented them but admitted they needed improvement.

A September 2017 survey of US retail store associates by Tulip Retail found that 48% of respondents had access to past purchases. This was the leading type of viewable customer data, which would seem to be prime for product suggestions and other personalization tactics, but a nearly equal percentage had access to no customer data at all (46%).