Empowered Customers Guide Commerce Personalization Initiatives

July 12, 2016 Tedd Rodman

What we can do, probably should not do, and would not dare do, is guided increasingly not by marketing studies and metadata, but by the customer’s comfort level with how deeply we penetrate into their online activities and preferences.

As marketing tactics and tools continue to evolve in the second half of the decade, the customer remains a major participant in determining how we collect and use data.

Marketing’s Massive Metadata Mistakes

 The surge in big data and analytics solutions misses the mark. Millions of customer data points can easily be collected and analyzed with the latest wave of as-a-service tools, which give even smaller companies access to the type of analysis that was recently available to just the largest firms.

The rapid embrace of customer analytics, backed up with sophisticated personalization and tracking capabilities, may backfire if they are seen as a land grab to acquire as much customer data as possible without regard to whether the customer actually wants their data to be collected.

The overuse of customer analytics – and leaving the customer out of the decision-making process on what to collect and how to use it – is just a new twist on an old problem. New technology in general has an “ooh, shiny!” effect. We tend to want it because it is new and exciting, we read the marketing hype, and deploy without analyzing ROI or what the long-term impact might be.

All those shiny new customer analytics toys that collect information, create higher degrees of on-site personalization, and implement a wide variety of tracking tools, will not live up to their expectations or potential if customers push back hard on their use.

 What Color Socks Am I Wearing?

People have a natural resistance to being tracked, even when that tracking is anonymized. Most tracking tools are relatively harmless and nonintrusive, but customer perception – not reality – is what matters, and they perceive tracking tools as anything from intrusive to downright dangerous.

Although your only aim is to determine what customers want, based on their geographical location or other demographic factors, they may perceive your activities as “spying,” and believe that you are collecting far more personal information than you are, or what is even possible.

Tools like Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and encrypted browsers like Tor have armed customers with simple tools that can thwart data collection efforts. These privacy tools have cost publishers an estimated $22 billion in revenue, and in European countries, they have reached over 25 percent penetration.

 The Customer Calls the Shots

The continued battle between personalization and privacy has only one good solution. That is, to create online experiences that achieve personalization and enhance the customer experience in a way that does not offend or alienate customers or create a perception of infringing on their privacy.

Amazon has succeeded in grabbing a lion’s share of online commerce through their fanatical customer experience culture. Amazon collects and analyzes customer data too, but they succeed by bringing customer experience into the mix.

Success depends on combining analytics and personalization technology with a customer-focused culture, with focused attention on standardization and transparency in data collection and targeting.

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