Personalisation has come to play an integral role in influencing consumer buying habits. According to research conducted by Manhattan Associates, 49% of customers interviewed said they would interact more with store associates if the shopping experience was tailored.
This got me thinking. How many retailers are responding to this preference for personalised experiences and applying it to their online stores? So I recently reviewed a few well-known brands with both an offline and online presence to see just how personalised they’ve made their online shopping experience, and this is what I found.
When I first visited the homepage, an easy-on-the-eye pop-up slowly appeared after a few seconds, unlike those that startle me by popping up immediately.
After reading and agreeing with their reasons for requesting my email address, I quickly typed it in, looking forward to getting one step closer to entering the website.
I was then redirected to a second form asking me to provide more information so communications could be “tailored specifically” for me.
At this point, I thought, “Great! Not only will I receive the latest updates on new collections, but they’ll personalise my emails based on my name, gender and geographical location, and likely offer me a gift on my birthday – hopefully exclusive access to buy something they know I like.”
So I submitted the form, looked at my feet and smiled in anticipation about the new statement pieces that would be caressing them soon, making me the envy of all my friends. Unfortunately, my dreams were dashed even before I had a chance to buy, thanks to the very first email I received, which arrived several hours after I signed up.
Subject Line and Salutation
Despite insisting that I supply my first name, they didn’t personalise the subject line in the welcome email or populate it in the message. I’m not a big fan of personalising subject lines, but when you add it as a compulsory field, at least repay my efforts of filling it in by using it.
According to Dale Carnegie, a person’s name to them is the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Therefore, why wouldn’t you include it when you can’t supplement the welcome greeting with an incomparable heartfelt welcoming smile? It’s the first missed opportunity to demonstrate to the consumer how you use the data they supplied to personalise their shopping experience.
Design and Content
The structure and design of the email is very good. You’re greeted with a quintessential hero image of their store, which would compel any ardent shoe lover into a frenzy to whip out their credit card and max their limit three times over.
The image, on the other hand, is a picture of shoes for females. I’ve just given you my gender, so why not show a statement piece or an iconic shoe for men? If I came into the store and confirmed I’m looking to buy a pair of shoes for myself, you wouldn’t show me women’s shoes.
When I clicked on collections, I was directed to the homepage, the same place the widely universal accepted logo took me. This would have been a fantastic opportunity to translate the offline experience online and personalise the message based on the information I provided. I signed up to receive information on new collections, so why not redirect me there and/or deeplink to new collections, new arrivals or bestsellers for men. Consumers want relevant content, recommendations that improve our shopping experience by allowing us to spend more time browsing the things we like.
I understand it’s the first welcome email, so perhaps personalising so soon may create the wrong impression and muddle the objective of conveying the key brand messages, range of product categories on sale and services available to customers. The store locator link did redirect to a map of the UK, which was pleasing, and the additional filter options allowed me to select the exact store I was looking for.
My welcome initiation lasted all of one day and one email, which is fine. One day later, I received what seemed to be a regular promotional email.
Based on the limited information they captured about me (I deliberately didn’t browse the website), I received a really well-crafted email about how to feel confident and empowered in the boardroom with the right female shoe, with the perfect cross-sell: a bag to match. In terms of content, I think it’s perfect, but it’s not relevant for me. If they served this content as a gifting suggestion, perhaps it would soften the blow of the second failed opportunity to personalise my email and overall shopping experience.
Mulberry also asked for personal and demographic details at sign-up.
I may not be interested in bags, but they at least made an effort to display a product that may be suitable based on the information I provided. But the email could have been improved by showcasing all the categories listed on their website for men. I counted eight in total – another missed opportunity. Rather than send me a product-specific email about the men’s latest buckle collection three days later, they could have served content at a category level based on which category or categories I clicked in that initial message. Taking it one step further, they could have combined this information with the item I deliberately placed in my basket but didn’t purchase directly after signing up.
Three days elapsed between the receipt of my initial welcome email and the first promotional message. During this time, no attempt was made to mine the data I provided to create a personalised experience. This seems to be a worrying and growing trend: less time spent getting to know your online customer and more haste on sending them that first non-personalised email with the expectancy to open, click and browse your website and make a purchase.
The In-Store Experience
To compare the experience I received online and form an impartial conclusion, I visited the physical store for both brands. The welcome greeting I received from both was warm, and the meticulous attention applied by each sales rep to understand my needs before suggesting relevant, personalised recommendations restored my faith that all hope is not lost. Moreover, it reinforced the ongoing challenge for marketers to emphasise personalisation and recognise the significant role it plays both offline and online, where there’s no sales rep to step in and salvage the nascent shopping experience. With more shoppers interacting online, it’s crucial they have a great user experience, or they’ll go elsewhere in the blink of an eye.
As with many popular retailers, both brands requested some very valuable information from me just to sign up and receive their newsletter. And with the advances in digital marketing technology, it’s becoming even easier to capture and use click and browse data to personalise content. Therefore, if retailers want to remain competitive and strengthen their relationships with customers, it’s time they start getting personal.