Jan 21 2016

NRF Big Show 2016: How to Avoid Being a Creepy Retailer

Personalization technology creates opportunity for retailers to connect with shoppers but comes with risks if used improperly.

Great in-store customer service leaves a lasting impression. Small moments, such as a merchant remembering a shopper’s name, help create loyal return customers.

In the omnichannel era, those moments still occur, but the in-person interactions are just one piece of a more complex buying journey. For retailers today, offering a great customer experience across all channels remains a major challenge.

Today, personalization tactics, such as email and notifications alerting shoppers to deals or discounts on products they may like — whether they’re at home or driving by a store — become increasingly effective.

If applied properly, personalization can create stronger, more trusted relationships between customers and brands. If misused, frequently targeted customers can view personalization tactics as intrusive at best, or creepy at worst.

That’s the warning from Nathan Coutinho, director of collaboration solutions at CDW. At this week’s National Retail Federation Annual Convention & EXPO in New York City, he cautioned retailers on how to avoid becoming creepers.

“Ultimately, everyone wants happy, loyal customers who keep coming back, and who talk about your brand and your products to their friends,” he says. “But as a consumer, you don’t want someone following your every footstep.”

The Retail Pivot

Today, the buyers and technologies evolve fast, so retailers must adopt the latest digital technology, with room for flexibility, to remain relevant.

“Digital transformation is key,” Coutinho says. “But digital can mean very different things to different customers.”

Coutinho says it’s important for retailers to cater personalization tactics across channels and buyers. Specifically, what a younger “digital native” buyer might find acceptable in terms of outreach methods and frequency may not prove acceptable to older “digital immigrant” buyers who prefer digital interactions in small doses.

“Digital can get very creepy,” he says. “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. You have to figure out what the line is, and then do not cross it, or you risk losing customers.”

As a guideline, Coutinho says, retailers that use digital personalization tactics should follow the basics of allowing easy unsubscribe and opt-out capabilities for customers.

“The one thing to watch out for is, you don’t want to overpersonalize,” he says. “There’s a lot of noise in the digital era. You have to turn down the noise.”

He also recommends offering content filters to customers so they can more specifically define what messages they receive, how often, and on what topic.

“All of this technology is really cool, but in reality, there are still many people who don’t even have smartphones,” he says. “You’ve got to be very simple with the end user. You don’t want to freak them out.”

To help build a roadmap to a better customer experience, Coutinho recommends retailers follow these steps:

Step 1: Reimagine Customer Journeys

  • Build a digital strategy and prepare to pivot as needed due to market changes.
  • Unify the customer experience from app to end user across all channels and devices.
  • Rethink the customer experience and how different generations shop for and use technology.

Step 2: Expand Customer Service

  • Build up a presence across self-help channels that customers use, such as social media and web searches.
  • Monitor online communities and forums to engage customers in posting questions and concerns.
  • Provide more convenient tools such as click-to-chat or click-to-call across channels.

Step 3: Modernize IT Platforms

  • Invest in data collection and analytics, including real-time analytics and data scientists.
  • Explore new technologies and how to apply them, such as devices and beacons enabled for the Internet of Things.
  • Build a hybrid cloud environment that includes on-premises infrastructure for security and compliance.

Finally, even the best laid strategy needs total business buy-in and a cross-functional team to make it a success.

“If you are going down a digital path, you have to have someone in charge of this entire transformation,” he says. “It’s not just an IT thing, it’s not just a retail thing, it’s an entire business thing.”

Read how data-backed decisions define retail’s future.

National Retail Federation/YouTube