The new retail frontier: Next level personalisation

Amy Vener leads Pinterest's retail strategy and helps partners understand how to best use the Pinterest platform to achieve a competitive advantage within their industry. She works across our product and marketing organizations to have a holistic view on how Pinterest can best meet the needs of retailers. Before joining Pinterest, Amy's career was built on the foundation of data driven marketing and measurement programs across publisher (Y! and newspaper world), retailer (Walmart merchandising and marketing) and marketing technology partner (Adobe, Acxiom, Personify).

The best retailers will embrace new digital tools that make it easier to personalise every encounter from that first moment of inspiration to finally taking action. In spite of this, it’s surprising to see that almost two-thirds (62%) of UK marketers say they do not incorporate personalisation into their campaigns, according to a recent State of Digital Commerce report from Episerver.  

Whether you work for an eCommerce brand, mass retailer, or the next great direct-to-consumer business, we can all agree that today’s consumers have more options than ever before. And as a result, brand loyalty is waning, consumer tolerance is low, and expectations are high. Today’s consumer is conditioned to expect tailored, visual, shopping experiences — online, in-store, and at their doorstep.

While data integration, dedicated resources, and technical obstacles have been real barriers to personalisation, the potential hit to your bottom line for not personalising the modern shopping experience will be far worse. According to Accenture, consumer dissatisfaction led to an astounding $2.5 trillion this past year in lost retail and brand sales globally.

Revenue loss is usually a lagging indicator of the problems happening further upstream for your shopper. As an experiment, become a new consumer of your product or service. Experience firsthand all the ways your brand (and others) show up. Notice where your experience feels easy versus disjointed; identify the business metrics tied to those experiences and what teams are responsible. For example, when you start researching a new product, are your signals of early intent (e.g., searches for “couch ideas,” “winter boots,” “healthy breakfasts”) being met with helpful information or a lower funnel hard sell? Which brands show up and how? Do the recommended products match your style or taste preferences?

As you continue evaluating your purchase, do any of the retailers make it easy to continue where you left off, or are you starting from the beginning each time you re-engage with them?

How do you feel about the series of new emails showing up in your inbox? And for those products or services that offer a physical store presence, do you make an in-person visit? If so, does visiting the store build on the digital experience?

With this exercise you can begin to understand how tailored and visual customer experiences lead to strong conversions. And this has been proven by the experts. According to a Boston Consulting Group survey, brands that use technology and data to offer customers personalised experiences are seeing revenue increase by 6 percent to 10 percent, two to three times faster than those that don’t.

Technology gets personal

Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon have raised customers’ expectations for personalised experiences. Soon, personalisation is going to be an expectation of every consumer on the internet. And that expectation will extend to every aspect of their lives — especially on mobile, where the limited real estate requires you to offer the most relevant items in a visually compelling way. Technology can help create more relevant shopping experiences and shorten the distance between inspiration and purchase.

This is a problem that Pinterest is working to solve. At its core, Pinterest is a visual discovery platform that 200 million people around the world use to discover ideas relevant to them. As people search and save, we refine our understanding of what they’re interested in. This is what we call the Pinterest Taste Graph—a map that connects people not to individual products but to their taste preferences—and the data asset we use to power personalization.

Because we understand our audience in a totally different way than a standard search engine or social platform, we're able to surface the perfect ideas for each Pinner as they move through the various stages of planning their lives. And often, those ideas inspire them to buy something.

Personalisation gets modern

While the majority of UK marketers have not yet embarked on some form of personalisation strategy, more than 42% of UK marketers identified “personalisation” as one of their top priorities last year, according to The Chartered Institute of Marketing. Today, it is not enough to just consider website customisation, email marketing or digital in-store pop-up experiences. In today’s market, it is necessary to move from random acts of personalisation to holistic, relevant consumer shopping experiences. This requires engaging on an individual basis across all consumer touchpoints, all the time.

As you rethink how your business puts the consumer front and center in the era of the modern shopping experience, here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Early matters: In the past, it was sufficient to know who a customer was (think demographics) and provide content tailored to that. Today we know that it’s more impactful to understand what moment they’re in and match it with the right message and channel. Historically, personalisation has been focused near the end of a customer’s journey because that behavior has been the easiest to identify and target. If someone has visited a specific product detail page or searched for the product name, we assume that consumer is nearing a buying decision. However, personalisation earlier in the decision process can be more effective. If you can reach the consumer before they’ve decided on a brand or product, you have more influence to affect their decision and commitment to it.
  • Visual at the forefront: Thanks to machine learning and the proliferation of cameras in everyone’s pocket, we can create digital consumer shopping experiences that mirror what it’s like to shop in the physical world — using visual cues to steer to the right products. According to Bazaarvoice, visual content in the shopping experience produces a 111% conversion lift and 180% revenue per visitor (RPV) lift for brands and retailers — probably because the brain processes visual information 60,000x faster than text. People want to search for and discover new ideas, even if they don’t have the right words. The future of consumer marketing is visual, and marketers need to use new ways to reach people that don’t rely on keywords.
  • Consistent experience throughout: The big opportunity in personalisation is the ability to use all the data about your consumer and your product catalog across all of their different experiences with your brand. That leaves many other consumer shopping experiences impersonal and random. This includes the in-store experience, mail received at home, searches conducted across digital platforms, or videos watched anywhere. Personalising the full consumer shopping experience is critical to securing loyal customers, but few retailers are doing this right now.

Retail has always been a people business. Today’s consumers are now challenging retailers to put the individual customer at the heart of everything they do. With more choices than ever before, consumers will align themselves with the brands that truly put them first, giving them the most relevant experiences at every touchpoint.

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