2018: Retail Gets Personal

What will be the three biggest trends in retail for 2018? Personalisation, personalisation, and personalisation.

In case you think my opening statement is just about me wanting to disrupt or satirise the usual template for these start-of-year trends-to-watch articles – it’s not.  Personalisation will be ubiquitous, and will carry other trends (analytics, customer experience, machine learning, voice) before it.  Personalisation has become the battleground for competitive differentiation.

2018 will be the year of The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which promises to change how we all think about data.  The advent of GDPR will give retailers renewed impetus to make their data really count.  If you’re not using it, then (there’s an argument to be made) it’s little more than a liability for you. 

The loyalty dividend

The best results come from delivering the right messages at the right times.

While that statement might not seem like rocket science, it has nevertheless taken slow, stop-start, painful decades for retail marketers to really commit to getting behind the personalisation agenda.  But the evidence is now overwhelming and the customer expectation set.  According to Accenture over half of consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer in store or online that recognizes them by name.  

Personalisation is the future.  This doesn’t just relate to retail – but time and again retail proves to be ahead of the game when it comes to innovation in customer experience.

Artificial Intelligence drives scalable personalised content

One of the reasons that personalisation has been ‘stop-start’ is the challenge – in this digital age – of delivering truly personalised experiences at scale.  And one of the key obstacles to delivering this has been the challenge of producing enough content to support engagement efforts.  Enter AI and machine learning, with the ability to identify and serve appropriate content experiences for each customer at every touchpoint.  Personalisation at scale is, finally, a reality.

Voice gets louder

Voice technology will become more disruptive over 2018.  The popularity of domestic devices and smart speakers continues its exponential growth, as sales in such devices over the Christmas period has evidenced.  As well as making shopping easier and more personalised, it’s giving marketers (privacy, ethics and GDPR considerations notwithstanding) access to a greater pool of cross-channel customer data.  Voice is also happily blurring the boundary between online and offline in a way which points to the longer-term future for retail.  Which brings me to my next point…

It’s not just online

Experiential Stores is another area to keep a close eye on over the year ahead. With customer experience and personalisation all-important, the renaissance of the physical store continues and the associated importance of Augmented and Virtual Reality grows.  Recognising customers instore through beacon-type technologies and generating personalised offers based on their purchase histories will see significant acceleration over 2018.

Data, data everywhere

Personalisation touches everything in retail, driven by ever-more versatile data management.  The huge impact Big Data Analytics has made on consumer-led sectors continues to accelerate.  The shift to insight and evidence-based programs is now irreversible.  Those using facts and evidence to drive revenue and growth are seeing the greatest rewards.

2018 will see Big Data extend its reach to cover the end-to-end retail journey, from supply chain to returns management.  It’s inescapable: the retailers in the lead are those who are using analytics smartly in everything they do.

Sales and Marketing align more closely than ever

For this personalisation to happen successfully, in a consistent and replicable way, it will take more than the stars being in alignment.  While the move towards greater convergence between sales and marketing departments (and their associated technology platforms) has seen greater momentum over the past couple of years (aided in part by the appetite for Account-Based Marketing), 2018 will see it reach a “tipping point”.  Retailers today understand the value of a ‘single view of the customer’; sales and marketing departments are shelving their historic distrust in favour of increased collaboration and a share of greater spoils.

If it ain’t personal, it ain’t worth it

The personalisation agenda isn’t a flash in the pan; neither is it a ‘bullying’ tactic that will suck energy and resources from other retail initiatives.  It will drive a change in mind-set around what engagement is meaningful and profitable, and align more comfortably with the individual.  Because the future, as I may have mentioned, is personal.