How ‘relevant’ is personalization?

Digital commerce thought leaders look beyond the hype on personalization and offer realistic suggestions for retailers

There’s not much better than a friend who “gets” you. An e-commerce retailer that does can be a close second.

You know the type: Anticipating your needs. Knowing your style. Giving you what you want, before you even know what it is.

Stitch Fix has been that for me. I answer a few questions. I’m shown several related options. And what shows up at my door — with the cachet of having a personal shopper, no less — is the perfect combination of surprise and expectation.

In other words, it’s relevant. Stitch Fix isn’t alone in winning this game. Sephora comes to mind, as well as Amazon Prime.

But for many other retailers, personalization still seems like this end-all, be-all giant to be conquered. It doesn’t have to be.

The Shop.org Think Tank set the record straight in a recent report on “Personalization, Value and Relevance.” This group of digital thought leaders, handpicked by the Shop.org Board of Directors, regularly sets the tone on trends, technologies and other industry elements.

Though their discussion of the topic included “a good diversity of opinions and experiences informing various points of view,” the group was strongly aligned around the importance of relevance, said Talbots executive and Think Tank member Rob Schmults.

Redefine “personalization” as “relevance”

“If the value of personalization is achieved by relevance, that means personalization is a range rather than an absolute,” Rob said. “So rather than being some binary state where either you are or you aren’t, with lots of arguing about where to draw the line, we pretty quickly got to a place where movement across the range was how you made progress.”

That probably sounds a bit theoretical, he admits, “but in practice, it was pretty fundamental to our belief that personalization isn’t out of reach, that many or even all retailers have attainable opportunities to deliver value through personalization.”

“If the value of personalization is achieved by relevance, that means personalization is a range rather than an absolute.” — Rob Schmults

The time is right. According to the report, more than half of retailers are certain they’re providing a personalized experience to consumers — but only 26 percent of consumers believe the same thing.

Then there are the retailers so overwhelmed by the prospect they haven’t even tried.

Start now, with the data and people you already have

“It might be too strong to say retailers are confused,” Rob said. “But I think there is a lot of inadvertent ‘fear, uncertainty and doubt’ that’s arisen. Personalization is often perceived as something that … you do after you have done all your other big initiatives. It’s for later, when you have a giant budget and a team of data scientists and a whole suit of shiny new tools to generate completely unique experiences for each and every one of your customers. Rather than waiting for a future that never comes, we wanted to … make it clear that personalization is something you can do now, most likely with the data, people and capabilities you already have. They won’t get you to the ‘One to One Future,’ but they will be enough to help you be more relevant to many of your customers.”

“Personalization is another tool in our toolkit to help drive relevance, but it’s not the only tool.” — Michael Griffin

Adlucent CEO and Think Tank member Michael Griffin added: “The biggest takeaway is that the goal of personalization is relevance rather than personalization for its own sake. Consumers demand relevance​ and relevance drives better performance​. Personalization is another tool in our toolkit to help drive relevance, but it’s not the only tool. It’s important to remember that if the goal is relevance, there may be other initiatives that are more important and easier to tackle first.”

Ready to learn more? There will be sessions related to personalization at Retail’s Digital Summit, hosted by Shop.org next month in Dallas.

Now look at us, anticipating your needs.