I recently moved into a new home and in a two-month stretch spent a significant amount of money on Amazon.com buying numerous furnishings, decorator items and appliances.
It struck me that despite being a loyal customer and Prime member, Amazon never figured out I was moving nor suggested any items or services I might consider for my new home. I wasn’t offered any discounts in recognition of my suddenly-frequent purchases, including some big-ticket items.
Contrast that with my car. After three days of parking it at my new home, the on-dash screen greeted me with a three-word question: “Have you moved?”
I was impressed my car realised I’d moved. But I was disappointed that even after leaving a big trail of digital breadcrumbs, Amazon didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. Amazon does a great job offering a huge range of merchandise at reasonable prices and quickly shipping it. They’re brilliant at convenience.
Still, this episode made me realise that even top-tier online retailers are still not taking full advantage of customer data.
Today, convenience and competitive pricing are table stakes. Not long from now, retailers will need to pamper customers to win and keep their loyalty. And to pamper them, they’ll really need to know them as individuals.
That’s because we’ve entered a new era in commerce—the era of the connected consumer.
The convergence of smartphones, ubiquitous wireless access, connected cars and Internet of Things sensors everywhere make it possible for brands and consumers to interact at any time and place.
The connected consumer has all the power of the Internet at her fingertips—and she’s firmly in control. She’s aware of products and services she might want to purchase, can easily comparison shop, and expects to receive competitive pricing and terms of service.
What’s more, she demands a better experience when interacting with brands, which, in many cases, means a more personalised experience. She’ll be loyal to brands that truly know her, what she might buy, and how she wants to be catered to.
Catering to this connected consumer calls for more than consumer intelligence software. Savvy digital marketers would choose a more apt label: consumer insights and interactions.
Brands no longer simply interact with a given individual at a moment in time—whether in a physical store or online. Now, thanks to advanced analytics, brands have the ability to track interactions across time and space, and use that knowledge to craft customised experiences for each individual.
Key to this more intimate and satisfying relationship between consumers and brands that cater to them is the ability of their computer systems to learn. Thanks to advances in AI (artificial intelligence), brands don’t just paw through those digital breadcrumbs; they learn who you are, how you live, what motivates you, your intent, how you shop, and how you like to be treated.
The more interactions with a particular brand, the better they understand you. And, with a deeper knowledge of who you are, they understand not just what you have bought in the past but your intent. Aha! The technology sees that Jane bought flip-flops, a sun hat and SPF 70 sunblock. She must be planning a trip to the beach or a resort. She probably will buy a swimsuit. And the brand knows she will want to try on suits in a store, rather than selecting one online.
The technology doesn’t just understand your motivations and intentions; it also learns how you want to interact. The key concept here is context. By interacting with you in a variety of situations, it understands your likes and dislikes, and can develop a customized shopping experience for you.
Here’s how I see things developing—using a scenario involving an imaginary retailer, Mississippi.
Mississippi has created a profile for me based on my past online and in-store purchases. Because they know that not everything I buy is actually meant for me, their technology filters out purchases clearly meant as gifts. My profile describes me as a professional woman with good taste in clothing, an eye for a bargain, and, because I shop for spices at a local grocery store that the company owns, they understand I’m a gourmet cook. They also know I almost never buy furniture online.
When I suddenly begin to order home items and have them delivered to a new address, they know I am in the process of moving.
And, rather than using just historic data and algorithms to infer what I want to do, Mississippi reaches out to me via texts to ask me questions—which I can answer by text or by interacting on their Web site or smartphone app. We establish that I’m moving to a smaller home—with a smaller kitchen. Since I prefer using the app, we engage in an online dialogue though it lasts several weeks.
Now that Mississippi understands what I’m up to, they offer a series of recommendations:
Kitchen: They suggest kitchen utensils that will fit comfortably in a smaller space, including a spice measuring carousel and a system for conveniently hanging pans.
Furniture: Mississippi knows I don’t typically purchase furniture online, so they suggest a local furniture retailer with which the company has a marketing affiliation—where I can feel the merchandise.
Contractors: Since I have purchased wallpaper for delivery to the new place, Mississippi suggests a half-dozen local painting contractors who have great reviews on Yelp and Google. They also suggest firms that provide installation services for TV, Wi-Fi and audio systems, and home security providers.
Recreation: They know I’ve bought exercise apparel in the past, so they recommend gyms and fitness trainers near my new address.
Imagining all the possibilities for better interactions almostmakes me want to move again.
But, really. Think about how much better it would be for retailers and customers if they developed these capabilities. For customers, it means not just convenience but being pampered—and loving it. For retailers, it’s the path to potentially life-long interactions—plus a hard-to-match edge in the battle for customer loyalty.
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