By Graeme Grant

Recently, eTail interviewed 30 marketing leaders from the ecommerce industry to learn how they plan to leverage new technologies to enhance online and omni-channel shopping experiences. Some of the findings are not entirely surprising. For example, retailers view mobile as the next great frontier for digital marketing, and many struggle with a culture that does not foster innovation.

What I found most noteworthy, however, are eTail’s findings on the top 4 goals retailers plan to focus on in 2015. These include:

  • Customer segmentation and personalization
  • In-store mobile capabilities
  • Responsive design and mobile usability
  • Technology to help integrate in-store/online marketing

The key here is that each of these innovations demonstrates a commitment to improving customer experiences. Now, more than ever, retailers are inundated
with new tools, tactics and channels for targeting customers. But at the end of the day, none of it matters if a retailer isn’t focused on making each customer’s shopping experience as relevant as possible, regardless of the channel, path or method a customer chooses.

In the report, the primary word these digital marketing leaders referenced time and time again was ‘personalization.’ Personalization represents every way a retailer tries to make the customer’s experience more relevant to them as individuals. The fact that retailers are finally understanding the value of personalized customer interactions is fantastic! Can you imagine a scenario in the next 5 years where every successful retailer isn’t delivering personalized customer experiences every time? I sure can’t! I have no doubt retailers will continue to adopt strategies and implement tactics around personalization in the years to come.

The Journey

But how are retailers going to get there? In today’s retail environment, where digital footprints are created from every customer interaction, resulting data repositories are exploding and leading-edge data science is finding more ways to spot needles in haystacks, personalization MUST be more than “Hi [insert first name].” The next generation of personalization requires predictive intelligence that doesn’t just react to a customer’s actions (e.g. an abandoned cart message), but proactively predicts what a customer wants before that customer even knows it.

This isn’t easy, and the fact that this eTail survey found cost, lack of talent and poor internal infrastructure as the top barriers to success is no surprise. The truth is that those barriers are not going away any time soon. As I have written about many times before, good data scientists are extremely challenging to hire for retailers, the retail IT infrastructure is NOT designed for big data, and the investments a retailer needs to make to tackle big data themselves are large and multi-year. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the DIY approach is not the only option. External, third party providers of predictive intelligence solutions are becoming established and they offer the triple-value of world class data science, modern cloud-based infrastructure and a SaaS pricing model that is far more affordable than the DIY approach. This may sound self-serving, but I believe this to be true: the ONLY way retailers are going to succeed in realizing the potential of personalization is through predictive intelligence technology partners. They just can’t do it alone.

As we creep closer to 2015, I urge retailers to stay focused on the key priorities for future success – understanding, anticipating and delivering on what each customer wants (read: personalization) is where the real value lies.

To learn more about eTail’s findings, view the entire report on the survey here.