The retail industry is in a constant state of upheaval. Every five minutes, it seems like something new is unveiled that will apparently change the way we shop forever, something that’ll fuse brand and buyer together forever.
But in reality, over the past year or so, the biggest revelation is that there isn’t really a big revelation.
Things like facial recognition, AI and data connectivity all continue as works in progress. There’s no big reveal, no next-level piece we’ve never heard of. What is interesting, though, is the constant, interchangeable use of the words ‘retail’ and ‘personalisation’. The focus isn’t on who’s going to be the first to reach the next breakthrough, but rather who can create the best experience possible so that they have the most customers’ hearts when it happens.
It’s here where digital becomes a double-edged sword for some.
Joey Coleman’s Never lose a customer again is a book placing massive emphasis on how physical interactions - such as snail mail and phone calls - can actually be more effective in onboarding customers during the first 100 days, trumping digital equivalents like email or chatbots. The rush towards being digital-first in every aspect can actually erode a brand’s personal touch - you need to reach out to customers and make them feel like a real human being before hitting them with the ‘Now, this is a cool piece of technology."
And it’s through a balanced blend of digital and physical interactions that you can truly nail personalisation. Coleman makes the imperative point that you have to use data to back it up, to create the ultimate, bespoke onboarding experience for your customers. And you just can’t mess that up. It’s like dating - if you mess the first one up, you’re probably not getting another chance. Unless you’re Ross from Friends.
It’s obvious that digital is now a necessity, a building block for all your other operations. There’s a lot of talk focussing on how bricks and mortar stores exist almost solely for the brand experience, rather than the endgame; online is where more and more of us now buy now. So how do we ensure that the same fizzy, euphoric feel of the shop is replicated in a web browser and, furthermore, in various digital payment methods going forward?
That personal touch needs to be applied to everything you do as a brand. Everything. Your in-store might be amazing, but if people log onto your app or website and it leaves them cold, then they just won’t continue to engage in the way you want them to.
Align the digital and physical correctly, and it's only consumer trust that really stands in the way.
This point is really hammered home when you take a moment to peer outside our Western bubble. For example, the Chinese market will much sooner adopt facial recognition methods when it comes to data, just because, in their culture, they’re naturally less riled-up about sharing their information. It’s exchanged for their convenience - it’s an actual trade-off that they’re willing to participate in. We’re a bit more, er, uptight when it comes to that stuff in the West.
So how can we, as agencies, as brands, as an industry, bring our customers up to that same level of trust? We should be offering them that same level of seamless experience. But if it were to launch tomorrow, people just wouldn’t be ready for it.
To get to that stage, we need to start tailoring our work as personal offerings, rather than service-based. To be more human in a digital desert. And to do this, you have to put in the groundwork, the heavy-lifting, to acquire the right data and correctly target your audience. Only then can you truly link the digital and physical.
Michael Olaye is chief executive at Dare and chief technology officer at Inside Ideas Group