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Personalising the faceless transaction is key to winning online business

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

There was an interesting statistic last week from the Office for National Statistics that said for the first time more than half of the UK population has bought something online.  Frankly I was a little surprised that by now  it was still only half but then that is probably my fault for living in a tech bubble and forgetting that so many have yet to be touched by the eCommerce revolution. 

However what it also suggests to me is that there is still a huge amount of growth still to be had for eRetailers – above the 15% pa they are currently experiencing – as existing buyers get more confident and more and more people join the party.  So there is a great opportunity but also a great challenge as the honey pot attracts more and more competitors. 

The big question is how do you make yourself stand out on the web – or why will the consumer choose you, keep coming back to you and recommend you to their friends?  The days of technical innovation on a site while not behind us yet are unlikely to make a huge difference so it has to be something else.

No, obviously the answer is around the service you provide and the experience that the customer takes away – pretty much like in store retailing really (and don’t forget price IS a part of the experience).  But unlike store retailing, online the transaction is faceless and impersonal.   Your best customer could be online and you may well have no idea who they are, what drives them, what repels them.  If they stay, great; if they go why? How can you possibly win them back?  In a flash they are gone and you have no understanding why.   Interestingly you also have no idea why those other customers are staying but if you did know why then you could do those right things more often. 

I discussed recently why personalisation is important  over routine “hygiene factors” in making the positive difference to customers but there lies the rub – how can one personalise a service to a customer when you don’t know who they are.    Your analytics and other clever software systems will tell you what they do on your site, not why they do it?  Nor will they tell you what their reaction is to that experience and how that will affect their propensity to repurchase or recommend.  Nor will they tell if the delivery agent was surly, the packaging damaged or any number of things that could go wrong with the fulfilment.  Nor will they tell you when the customer phoned to ask for explanation that the agent in the call centre was considered surly and inattentive.  But now the customer may well have gone for ever even after a successful online experience.  

Will pure play online retailers have to have a high street, bricks and mortar presence as a way of establishing customer relationships and securing brand values?  Possibly not if they can find a way of personalising (and always improving) the online experience.  Will all retailers doing business online need to align their channels so they present a consistent brand and customer experience across all touch points – absolutely certainly they will.