Here is how smart, personalized shopping experiences equal loyal customers

In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report, the world’s advertising agencies have gotten personal… very personal. Set in 2054, eye scans identify consumers, and direct pitches are made as people walk through town. The film’s main character played by Tom Cruise walks into a GAP store and the image of a friendly woman pops up on a holographic display. “Hello, Mr. Yakamoto, welcome back to the Gap. How’d those assorted tank tops work out for you?” she asks. –Now that’s “personal.”

Most of us likely don’t want things to go quite so far or be so “in your face,” but personalized shopping experiences are slowly becoming the norm. Brands and companies that want to keep their shoppers loyal will need to adapt to what’s becoming expected, and it will require a combination of big data and AI computing tech and things as simple as offering unique ways to earn rewards or dispensing with over-hyped ads in favor of promotional campaigns with authenticity and even a touch of humility. Here are three simple ways businesses can ensure the next purchase is a repeat purchase:

1. Loyalty programs must be simple, and genuinely rewarding
Too many brands, shops, retailers, etc., are still playing – to be blunt – dumb games with customers. So-called “reward programs” are littered with conditions and restrictions, offer minor rewards, and force the shopper to do something demeaning, such as get a stamp on a card. Shoppers aren’t grade-schoolers and for these busy people, collecting stamps isn’t “fun.” Finding a way to consolidate and simplify loyalty programs goes a long way, which explains the rise of “reward apps.” These have streamlined the process and deliver rewards fast. Download the app and then it’s as easy as snapping a picture of your shopping receipts. Hit ‘send’ and you start earning points. These can be exchanged quickly for, say, an Amazon gift card, or you pick from literally dozens of special offers, discounts, freebies, and more. By making it as easy as taking a picture or scanning a receipt, the app gives the power to the shopper: they decide when or if to do so. By making the rewards as random as a free Uber ride or a cup of joe, the shopper is actually happy with the reward as they chose it. This is opposed to the too-often “rewards” we see that equate to: “You get 20% off your next purchase of any book by these three authors.”

2. Good Data Management and Analytics are Essential
The terms “big data” and “artificial intelligence” scare some people. But that’s likely because they don’t understand how the combo is changing the world. When you go to Amazon and the site recommends something to you based on a previous buy or tells you “People who bought this also bought this,” it’s usually right on the mark. This global giant harnesses the power of some of the best computer programs in the world, but it’s not all just about numbers being fed by an AI into a huge database. Yes, the algorithms they use are the reason you get recommendations that are often exactly what you were looking for, but it was a team of humans who thought up the idea of sending perfectly timed emails letting you know the status of your order. The tools are out there. Your brand or company shouldn’t wait for the “perfect” strategy. Instead, start experimenting with ideas for personalization. Good plans will stick and even ineffective ideas are useful as learning tools. No one likes to be pestered, but most of us enjoy being pampered. A real-life example: One online shoe retailer has a database (of course) with lists of customer sales. They also know, however, when a person clicks on an item, but it’s not available in the size or color they want. So they make sure to let you know if something you want is in stock. Getting a call from a store or an email notification saying, “Hey, Ms. X, those size 14 dress shoes in burgundy just became available” is not really a sales call, it’s a personalized shopping assistance experience.

3. Shoppers Are No Longer OK with “Almost Right”
While it might cost more in initial investment to ensure your manufacturer can make sizes 10, 10.5, and 10.5 wide/narrow, it pays off in the long run. As Shofify notes, “Apparel brands have the biggest opportunity for personalized experiences. A 2019 report indicates that purchasing the wrong color, size, or fit is the top reason for returns (46%). Getting fit right is essential for brands in minimizing returns.”

And this idea of course spreads beyond clothing. Why can’t this product come in more than three colors? Anything from bicycles to cat collars: more choice means greater feelings of connection. Humans are creatures of habit and we like what we like… and don’t often veer far from our baselines. If you manage to make that connection, there’s a good chance it’s going to stick –perhaps for life.

In conclusion:
AI and big data are great tools for managing macro issues such as the perfect amount of “safety stock.” Optimizing and streamlining product lines will reduce prices for both you and your shoppers. Using AI tools in advertising can personalize to the point where the customer begins to see your ads as “information” rather than advertising. But thinking about the exact needs of your shoppers – your people – is something that still requires the brainpower of dedicated humans who genuinely care about making a shopping trip – be it to a brick-and-mortar shop or online – a tailored, personal, and pleasant experience.

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