Personalization: Are We There Yet?

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The personal touch

How marketers handle data for personalization will also have some impact — negative if they get it wrong, positive if they get it right. 

Opting into personalization, and having a sales associate know you when you walk into  store, is good, noted BCG's Abraham. But: “If it happens without consent, it can be creepy. 

A different approach is to look at a product or service as a customer experience, Abraham continued.  One general principle is to look for “pain points” in the transaction, then change the process to produce a convenience. Abraham offered some examples. Starbucks allows customers to pre-order from their smart phones while waiting on line, so the coffee is ready by the time they get to the register. Or Sephora, which uses augmented reality to allow users to “try” various shades of lipstick, using their picture or smartphone selfie. Yet these two solutions required both companies to see their services as creating a customer experience.

Ross offered Office Depot as another example. There, Monetate's AI and machine learning was used to alter web pages delivered to customers, depending on where they were in the purchase cycle. Again this paid off, with a $7 million sales gain in four months.

For many companies, personalization is a when, not an if. While established brands may not be as far along as “digital natives”, they must find a way to adapt the technology to suit their customers's needs.

Or they can do nothing and wait for Amazon to eat their lunch.