Returning ‘Intimacy’ to the Retail Customer Experience

By | Jul 25, 2013

The retail world is focusing more on bringing personalization and intimacy back into the interactions with their customers, to try to recapture the sense of special 'one-on-one' shopping experiences. Retail firms of all sizes are joining in, and applying personalization efforts to digital and physical shopping. In some ways, midsize and smaller retailers are better positioned to achieve and sustain real closeness with their customers.

Shopping intimacy has to be authentic, where retailers show that they care enough to help shoppers find and buy what they want, while hopefully providing a memorable experience. Personalization is now a 'co-creation' effort between customer and retailer for the preferred shopping experience. If retailers don't understand what customers want, then personalization efforts will backfire.

To succeed with a personalization initiative, it first needs to be part of the firm's overall customer strategy, so all customer interactions dovetail across channels. Then firms can decide on the tools that will help them. For retailers and their marketers, there are a wide range of technology options that are cost-effective and powerful. The idea should be to use technology to help improve the shopper's "return on involvement" -- with multiple personalized channels available even when shopping in physical stores.

It takes the right data, insights and processes to smooth the shopping experience on any channel. Many kinds of data and various analytics are becoming more important for improving customer experiences. Not only can analytics help retailers better understand their customers for accurate and engaging personalization, but analytics can consider constraints that also influence buying such as time and budget considerations.

While data and analytics can tell retailers many things, they're not the only factors for shaping more intimate experiences. Personalization takes a lot of work to truly pique the interest of shoppers / buyers with the right engagement and information. It also requires restraint and good judgment to avoid the "creepiness factor". The best approach may be less frequent, high quality interactions to avoid the sense of being stalked. Retailers that show they respect the security and privacy of their customers demonstrate the essence of intimate shopping experiences where the happy customer comes first. Paying back value to customers in exchange for using their data and showing that you can be trusted earns more loyalty and business.

Nurturing and maintaining personalized customer experiences are strong factors for evoking intimacy for shopping. Sometimes features and immediate needs drive purchase decisions, but most of the time shopping is an emotional activity. Intimate, pleasurable shopping experiences often result in additional purchases and customer advocacy.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I've been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

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