Personalisation is now widely regarded as a way for “bricks” retailers to offer customers a seamless experience between the digital and physical worlds. In fact, new research from Accenture shows that 55% of consumers want personalised experiences and conversations through all engagement channels, perfectly tailored to their personal preferences and needs.

In response, the high street is rushing to take advantage of new developments in analytics and technology. However, Accenture’s research shows that whilst the store environment should be all about initiating and maintaining conversations with the customer, some retailers just don’t know when to leave people in peace, and as a result have crossed a marketing Rubicon into territory that can only be described as ‘creepy.’

The survey, of 1000 American customers, looked at both online and in-store retail, and highlighted what they found unacceptable in a personalised shopping experience.

Whilst there were moments when customers valued a retailer’s input they were ready to draw the line at seeing recommendations from their friends while shopping online. In addition, 36% of those surveyed felt it was creepy to be greeted by name when they walk into a store and 42% thought it was going too far to receive recommendations based on their health issues which they regarded as off limits.

Accenture’s Technology Lab, set up to deliver insights into shopping behaviours, has dubbed this creepiness ‘hyper-personalisation,’ - a devastatingly accurate data cocktail leading to a level of consumer understanding that, even in this marketing literate world, would shock most of us.

Using advanced datasets, including geolocation, sentiment analysis, facial analysis, online and offline behaviour, social connections, and other sources it is possible for a brand, through social media analysis, to know a huge amount about our private lives, information that we are largely unaware that we are sharing.

Accenture offers an example: the close friend of a customer has a new baby, and the retailer knows, based on the friend’s interests, that she is an avid Star Trek fan. When the customer goes online to buy a gift, the site personalises the page with a message, “Celebrate the new addition to Sarah’s family with a Star Trek Fleet Command onesie (0–6 months).”

Most of us accept that, just like lunches, there is no such thing as a free search and that if you are not paying for the product then you are the product. So, we are generally happy for our personal information to be sliced and diced and sold on to brands that want to engage with us. Like many I am uncomfortable if I can’t switch the conversation off. Personally, I like to feel that I am in control and if a brand gets the dialogue wrong then exactly the opposite is true, I feel I have acquired a brand stalker and that I should be able to issue a marketing restraining order.

So far we have seen just the tip of the iceberg regarding how close brands can get to the customer. Some developments have the ring of science fiction about them, for example clothing that can ‘read’ emotions as we journey around a store, enabling the store to suggest purchases or activities in line with our moods. Perhaps a calming massage on the fifth floor? A hot beverage in the basement? This the sort of conversation that makes me feel as if the store is coming too far into my personal space.

And yet, I can still get excited by the announcement this week that Adidas will soon include NFC chips in all clothing and footwear. It means that anybody with the right software on their mobile will be able to download the info on the chip and know exactly what T shirt the guy at the next table is wearing, what his trainers cost and whether the adidas store across the road has them in the right size. It makes the world a shop window and it also generates a huge amount of data.

Now Adidas stress they are not collecting data for data’s sake, they genuinely want to understand their customer base much better than they do right now. They also realise that, despite all of the advancements I have mentioned, we have only just crossed the threshold of what is possible in retail technology.

Above everything else brands need to remember that technology moves much faster than people, and culturally we all need to feel comfortable with how things are marketed to us. We all enjoy that visit to the shops, in fact it’s still the number one pastime in the UK, but we all want to feel that our relationship with a brand is on tap, a conversation that we can start if we want and more importantly switch off when we feel like being alone.

Nigel Collett
CEO rpa:group
Phone:01784 256579

Published on: 5:39PM on 20th April 2015