The retail market might be gearing for a breakthrough. As retailers embrace artificial intelligence, consumers increasingly shift spending to mobile devices, and holiday shopping injects a necessary impetus to trial new methodology, retailers will encounter an opportunity to collect data — and dollars — from newly minted platforms and honed strategies.
Maribeth Ross, senior vice president of marketing at Monetate, a personalization solution provider, shares insights about the current market and shares predictions on Generation Z, the next wave of technology and protecting the growing volume of consumer data.
WWD: Though the majority of back-to-school shopping is likely completed, what best practices should retailers continue to offer consumers?
Maribeth Ross: Omnichannel optimization is crucial during key shopping seasons like back-to-school and holiday, as consumers bounce between in-store and online. Retailers need to create a seamless experience that translates across all channels. This means being up front about availability. If an item is out of stock online, shoppers should know well before they reach checkout. If an item is available in a nearby store, they should be able to easily reserve it. Create clear forms: Mobile checkouts can be fraught with glitches, leaving shoppers frustrated and with items left in digital carts. Make the process as streamlined as possible — and offer multiple payment methods — so it’s quick and easy to complete. Finally, conduct follow-ups. Retailers can be more aggressive these times of year given shoppers are bombarded with information. Incentives are powerful tools, and may be enough to persuade a purchase if cost deterred it.
WWD: As shopping continues to shift to mobile, how can retailers ensure their shoppers encounter a truly personalized journey across all channels?
M.R.: Retailers need to focus on creating a mobile experience that’s quick and easy for shoppers. Screen size is a hurdle, so minimizing pop-ups and using badges to identify popular items or free shipping options will help move the process along more quickly and result in conversion.
Knowing the average time-on-site for mobile is five to 10 percent less than desktop, retailers are also creating more personalized experiences that track across different channels and provide product recommendations based on factors unique to the individual shopper.
WWD: In your opinion, what new technologies are most exciting in the next six to 12 months? Why?
M.R.: Marketers are on the cusp of leveraging AI technology to achieve true one-to-one personalization. According to a recent study by Persado, 86 percent of marketers plan to invest in AI and machine learning technologies in 2017, so it’s clear brands are already taking notice of the potential of these technologies.
By creating one-to-one experiences, retailers ensure each customer is served the most relevant experience in real-time. When a one-to-one experience is launched, each individual customer gets the best possible experience and brands see improved results that map back to specific business goals — anything from increasing revenue lift or newsletter subscriptions to decreasing bounce rate.
WWD: Generation Z is maturing quickly, how will technology — specifically personalization tactics — need to adjust to appeal to this set?
M.R.: Generation Z is projected to represent 40 percent of consumers by 2020, so they will be a crucial segment for retailers to tap into. This group — which roughly ranges in age from nine to 19 — grew up on social media. They’re used to overstimulation in a way unlike any generation before.
Hyper-connectivity gives Gen Z a direct line to retailers through e-mail, web and social media so they have a deep understanding of brand identity, and expect brands to recognize them as individuals, too. This group is a prime example of one that retailers should be looking to reach using new AI-powered personalization, as it ensures each customer is served the most relevant experience in real-time.
WWD: With the rise of personalization software and larger amounts of data being collected, what security measures do retailers need to enforce in order to ensure that personal details are protected?
M.R.: With the rise of personalization software and larger amounts of data being collected, retailers need to enforce security measures across employees, their software and their processes.
First employees need to understand the sensitivity of the data they’re using, and be trained to recognize common attacks, since many breaches occur using wit and charm rather than using technical tactics.
Security should be a central feature of any software that retailers depend on; not merely an afterthought. Look for software designed by engineers who understand how security vulnerabilities can occur and build secure software from the ground up. Ask if they use a process of continual improvement to keep verifying and improving the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the system.
Leveraging technical measures to shore up processes, such as implementing role-based access controls, protects your business and your customers by ensuring that team members have sufficient access to only the data they need to do their job. And, encrypting data both when it’s in transit and when it’s at rest protects data from attackers and ensures that the data has not been modified.
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