Today retailers can create multiple versions of their homepages, with flexible products and promotions tailored to endless customer variations. Digital advertisers are adapting their messaging based on myriad profiles and data points. And, with the increasing uptake of AI, brands are able to hold individual conversations with individual customers — digitally, physically, and via curated products and services.
But among this array of activity, what’s actually working? Where’s the real value? And what do customers make of it all?
At our first panel event in Amsterdam, we unpacked these questions with the help of an expert panel, and a curated audience of retailers, marketers, founders, and technologists.
Joining us at Amsterdam’s Tobacco Theatre were Tristan Thomas, Head of Marketing and Community at ‘bank of the future’ Monzo, Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of digital retail pioneers Holition, Jonna van den Dungen, CEO of predictive analytics tool StyleScript, and WeTransfer CMO Damian Bradfield.
Here’s what we learnt.
Know your customer
“Community is key to personalisation,” said Tristan. Monzo doesn’t market to millennials, or any other demographic, but to an engaged community of users.
As well as creating a forum where users can ask questions, share ideas or suggestions for new features, Monzo also regularly invites these users into their offices, to hear from them first hand. The team iterate in response to user feedback, keeping the community closely involved at every stage.
“Broad brushstroke demographics don’t work” agreed Jonathan, citing ASOS as an example of an online retailer with a complex understanding of its audience. “ASOS has more than 30,000 unique customer sets,” he said, “it knows its customers on a granular level.”
The challenge for ASOS – and for all online retailers – is how they take these huge data sets and use them to craft experiences that are highly relevant, but still surprising.
Personalised experiences still need to leave room for discovery, the panel all agreed.
A welcome interjection from the audience prompted a discussion about Spotify Discover, and whether its algorithmic recommendations ended up actually inhibiting discovery, pushing people towards a limited range of styles and genres.
As the questioner put it: “To create a great experience, a brand must know me really really well, or not know me at all.”
Human after all
“There’s a myth that we’re willing to give away more and more data, in order to get more, and get it faster,” said Damian. “But pre- or post-digital, on or offline, the only constant has been our desire to be treated as people.
“There’s a necessity and convenience to being online, but do we really enjoy it?”
By putting the user at the heart of the design process, both WeTransfer and Monzo are trying to create enjoyable, intuitive, and ultimately human experiences.
WeTransfer aims to remove any friction from the workflow, and allow people to share work without interrupting the creative process. It’s pared-back user interface allows people to send and download files as quickly as possible, and shows them inspiring creative stimuli while they wait.
Similarly, Monzo designs its app and develops new features in response to user needs, with the ultimate goal of solving people’s problems around their money. For example, its Target feature helps with budgeting, users can collate expenses and add receipts within the app, and the card can be frozen and “defrosted” at the touch of a button.
Both Monzo and WeTransfer laid out idealistic and markedly different approaches to privacy and transparency. But a questioner from the audience asked how these models would hold up as each company grew.
Following a freemium model similar to Spotify, WeTransfer has been profitable since 2014, making money through advertising and subscriptions to its premium offer.
As Damian explained, they’ve been able to balance profit and principles by using offline logic to make decisions about online experiences.
“You don’t have to sign up to walk into the door of a store,” he joked, “and when you leave, no one will follow you down the street with a pair of trainers you picked up, hassling you to buy them.” Online experience don’t need to be invasive in order to be personal, and using offline behaviour as a barometer helps the team judge what’s appropriate.
That means only collecting limited customer data, and pushing back against advertisers’ desire for more, Damian described.
For Monzo, balancing profit and principles mean committing to transparency across the board.
“We practice radical transparency,” explained Tristan. All Monzo communications are accessible and in the public domain. Internally, that means any emails or messages are added to an archive that anyone can access. While externally, that means whenever any requests access or use customer data are made, they’re explained clearly, in plain English, and are entirely optional.
Who’s in control?
Luxury and fashion brands are using to being “custodians of taste,” said Jonathan. But growing consumer desire for personalised experiences has meant that they’re having to relinquish control.
StyleScript’s API allows its retail partners to offer personalised product recommendations to any shopper. Using image recognition technology, it helps retailers autotag extensive collections with detailed metadata about colour, fit, fabric, and style. These retailers are then able to serve customers with more specific product suggestions that are based on a nuanced understanding of their preferences, rather than historical purchase data.
As she went on to explain, Jonna believes that the future of personalised online e-commerce will see customers take greater control over their data, deciding if, when – and to what extent – to share it with brands and other online services. As well as receiving personalised recommendations from StyleScsript’s partner retailers, shoppers will also be able to create their own StylSscript profile: an accurate record of their personal style. They’ll be able to login to this profile and use it to access personalised recommendations on any e-commerce site.
Catalysed by changes in the law (the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation comes into force in May 2018), we are starting to understand that data doesn’t belong to businesses, but to people. “Too often, data collection is seen as a benefit for brands, not consumers,” agreed Jonathan. “Personalisation should ultimately serve the customer.”