Consumers Want More Personalized Shopping Experiences

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Marketers and retailers are becoming more savvy about helping customers find items that match their specific interests. Their secret weapon: customers who tell them want they want.

"The one-size-fits-all idea no longer works, especially on the Internet, where there's so much you can do," notes Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com.

Launched in 2009, BeFrugal.com offers targeted coupons and a cash-back option to members by asking them to indicate the brands from which they would like to receive coupons. Users are asked for their email addresses in exchange for one-time $10 cash bonuses that are deposited in their free accounts. The site recently introduced a feature that will enable members to receive email alerts about coupons from their favorite stores.

The email alerts were introduced to further personalize the user experience, according to Lal. "We would rather cater to our customers by allowing them to tell us what they're interested in instead of us trying to market to them," he says.

Marketers must maintain a balancing act that involves providing highly targeted offers without being too intrusive or violating the privacy of their customers.

As technology advances, consumers are becoming more comfortable with personalized shopping experiences and are willing to share details about themselves to educate their favorite brands on how, when, and where to approach them, according to a survey by IBM.

Of more than 28,000 consumers surveyed, three out of four respondents would tell retailers about their media usage; 73 percent were willing to share demographic information; 61 percent would give out their name and address, and 59 percent would provide lifestyle information in exchange for more targeted and smarter shopping experiences.

Marketers are responding with personalized email and social media campaigns, geo-location apps, QR codes, and more. Although these marketers are wise to provide numerous personalized offers, they should be mindful of the channel through which they're interacting with a customer, warns John Stelzer, worldwide industry lead of Retail Smarter Commerce at IBM.

"Most customers are accustomed to receiving mass email, but they consider a mobile phone to be a much more personal device. If they allow a retailer to communicate with them through that channel, they expect the offer to be much more personalized," Stelzer says. "Customers are…becoming more spoiled. Once they experience a personalized service, such as product recommendations based on previous purchases, they…wonder why other brands don't offer the same thing."

Consumer privacy is a major concern, and marketers should be sensitive to this when asking customers to submit their personal information, offering opt-in and opt-out options, Stelzer adds.

Consumers distinguish between behavioral and identity data, and they are more concerned about the latter being accessed, finds a report by Forrester Research. "Marketers and data stewards need to rethink the types of data their organizations collect and how they communicate the use of that data to their customers," writes senior analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo in the report. "As most firms capture far more data than they actually use, they must refine their data capture practices and clearly communicate them within a prominently posted privacy policy."

According to the Forrester research, which surveyed more than 37,000 Americans, more than half of consumers ages 18 to 34 are willing to share their personal data with brands in exchange for exclusive discounts, whereas fewer than a quarter of consumers ages 55 and older would. Older consumers said they prefer to share their data in exchange for loyalty points (24 percent) or cash rewards (35 percent).

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