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Tech Guest Viewpoint: Personalizing Customer Interactions

BY CSA STAFF

By John M. Pierre, Linguastat

The single greatest challenge that retailers face today is to have an individualized “conversation” with each customer and to do so on a global scale. Consumers expect a similar personalized experience regardless of channel, from the marketing offers they receive to the products that appear in search results.

But actually achieving mass personalization requires a number of key strategic decisions, as well as nuts-and-bolts technology tools to turn the goal into a reality. Each retailer’s route to mass personalization will differ from product type to product type, channel to channel, and even customer to customer.

Retailers’ first step is to determine what level of personalization is appropriate for their product offerings, as well as their customer base. Nor is this a simple one-time-only decision, but rather the basis for many more decisions For example, some customers will welcome personalized treatment when shopping online or via their mobile devices, but will prefer self-guided anonymity when they visit a brick-and-mortar store. Others will appreciate being recognized by store associates, particularly if they can help them find what they’re seeking, but will find the same suggestions intrusive, annoying or, ironically, impersonal when they are offered online.

Despite these complexities, e-commerce retailers have already made some significant strides in this area. According to Aberdeen’s E-Commerce Supply Chain report, online retailers have identified two key strategic actions to personalize the e-commerce experience:

● Increase available product data for customer review (30% of respondents);

● Coordinate product placement with customer behavior (24%).

Providing more information gives consumers the control they expect. Better data allows them to compare product attributes, while also enabling the retailer to up-sell and cross-sell using recommendations that stem from the customer’s search patterns.

Sounds good. But just how do retailers successfully implement these levels of personalization – particularly as the volume and variety of products they sell online continue to increase? One level is via product assortment. Retailers can shape the inventory they offer to various customer groups based on fixed and historical factors, such as customer demographics and previous purchases, as well as more contextual clues (i.e. the device/platform the customer is using, the time of day, and the shopper’s digital “route” to the retailer’s site.)

Another critical though often overlooked level of personalization involves the data and descriptive/promotional content connected to each individual product. These descriptors, which are often the last “ad” a customer sees before making a buying decision, can and should be tweaked and targeted for different audiences, pointing out the product’s relevance to the customer’s needs. When used effectively, such product-specific, customer-specific personalization can improve conversion rates while minimizing bounce and shopping cart abandonment.

Achieving this deeper level of personalization on the mass scale that retailers require is beyond the capacity of even the largest and most efficient marketing organizations–unless they have access to sophisticated, retail-specific content creation engines. New advances in Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Generation are making it possible for retailers to create unique, non-duplicated descriptor variants, even for the same product. These descriptors are designed to boost online search relevance, but even more important, they are continuously refined and targeted based on dynamic metrics such as search queries, site traffic, and conversion rates.

So remember that true personalization is about far more than putting “Dear [FIRST NAME]” at the head of your e-mails. It’s about using dynamic content to link your products to each customer’s here-and-now needs, desires and aspirations.

John M. Pierre is CEO and co-founder of Linguastat.

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Hershey CEO appointed to president’s council on U.S. –Africa trade

BY CSA STAFF

J.P. Bilbrey, CEO of Hershey, has been appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to President Obama’s newly-established Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA).

Bilbrey will be one of the 15 private sector leaders providing guidance to the president on strengthening partnerships with African nations to leverage the opportunities for U.S. companies committed to supporting the continent for the long term.

The private-sector council will focus on strengthening the U.S.’ commercial relationships with African nations.

“It is a great honor to be selected and to serve on this advisory council to our President,” said Bilbrey. “Africa is home to some of the fastest growing economies and represents an exciting opportunity for our government and U.S. businesses. The Hershey Company has a long history in West Africa through sourcing our most important commodity, cocoa, and more recently through our important work to help improve the

“Economic growth on the Continent will continue to drive demand for U.S. exports, which will ultimately help create jobs at home and provide valuable investment opportunities for U.S. businesses,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

U.S. Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies co-hosted the first-ever U.S.-Africa Business Forum earlier this year, where president Obama signed an Executive Order (E.O.) at the Forum to promote broad-based economic growth in the United States and Africa by encouraging U.S. companies to trade with and invest in Africa. The E.O. directed the Secretary of Commerce to establish the PAC-DBIA.

The PAC will provide information, analysis, and recommendations on U.S.-Africa trade and investment priorities including job creation, developing and strengthening commercial partnerships and analyzing the effect of policies in the United States and Africa on U.S. trade and investment interests in Africa.

For more information regarding the diverse appointees to the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa, please visit www.trade.gov/pac-dbia.

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Home Depot hackers got 53 million email addresses

BY Dan Berthiaume

Atlanta –- In addition to obtaining data from 56 million payment cards between April and Sept. 2014, hackers who infiltrated the network of The Home Depot Inc. also obtained the email addresses of 53 million customers.

In a statement on its website, the retailer said the files containing the email addresses, which were separate from the payment card files, did not contain passwords or other sensitive information, but customers should still be on guard against phishing scams.

The Home Depot said it will notify affected customers in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, the retailer provided an update on the ongoing investigation into breach it is conducting with law enforcement and third-party IT experts. Hackers used a third-party vendor’s user name and password to enter the perimeter of Home Depot’s network.

These stolen credentials alone did not provide direct access to the company’s point-of-sale devices. The hackers then acquired elevated rights that allowed them to navigate portions of Home Depot’s network and to deploy unique, custom-built malware on its self-checkout systems in the U.S. and Canada.

In response, Home Depot has accelerated the rollout of enhanced payment data encryption technology from Voltage Inc., started in Jan. 2014. The rollout was completed in all U.S. stores by Sept. 13, 2014 and will be completed in all Canadian stores by early 2015.

The company is also rolling out EMV chip-and-PIN technology, which was deployed to Canadian stores in 2011. Launched as a project for U.S. stores in January 2013, the project will be completed ahead of the payment industry’s Oct. 2015 deadline. Security experts told The Home Depot he malware used in the attack had not been seen before and was designed to evade detection by antivirus software. As of Sept. 18, the hackers’ method of entry has been closed off and the malware eliminated.

Home Depot said it does not expect any additional disclosures on the breach outside of regular quarterly financial releases. The retailer also reaffirmed its third quarter guidance of 4.8% sales growth and earnings per share growth guidance of $4.54, approximately 21%. However, the EPS guidance does not include breach-related costs, which Home Depot says it has not yet been able to estimate. The breach may affect Home Depot financial results in the fourth quarter and in future periods.

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