Concierges and Garage Sales

A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me to go to a store with him while he picked up some running shoes. By any common measure, that store would have placed my friend and me in the same segment. We are the same age, we are both avid runners with high conversion rates and lifetime value, and we live in the same city. He and I receive the same promotional marketing messages from the same brands and retailers, and we spend roughly the same amount per year on the sport.

Still, the feeling of walking into a store with another person is something we have all experienced many times. One person is actually shopping while the other person is a “third wheel,” simply following their friend around the store. And here’s the rub:

The store’s owner can’t properly cater to the needs of both shoppers concurrently, because segmentation isn’t effective in practice.

My friend, while similar to me, still has his own personal tastes that don’t match mine. I have a different gait and arch than he does, and I am loyal to one brand of shoe while he likes to test out various brands. We buy different nutritional supplements and apparel styles, and he spends more time on trails than I do. For those reasons, we aren’t necessarily shopping together, so much as walking into the store at the same time and venturing along our individual paths through its aisles and products.

These differences in preferences are a reason why we pay a premium to shop at our local running store instead of finding cheaper deals online. There currently aren’t any running focused eCommerce sites that understand our individual needs the way the owner of our local store can. In fact, very few eCommerce stores of any kind are yet capable of such intelligence.

A knowledgeable shopkeeper acts like a concierge, asking insightful questions about our needs, tailoring product recommendations in real-time, and remembering our preferences during future visits. My affinity for lightweight 4-millimeter drop neutral pronation Sauconys is something my local store owner remembers, and he knows that I am a sucker for new gadgets and technology for data collection.

While he is making thoughtful recommendations for products that resonate with me, the average online retailer is sending me emails about brands I don’t care about, or apparel that is much too warm for my local climate. It feels like those retailers are operating a garage sale, simply trying to drive unqualified traffic to peruse their excess inventory, oblivious to the fact that I have my own “running concierge” here in my hometown.

I have been in eCommerce for most of my adult life, and the term “personalization” has been used to describe a wide range of experiences over the years. Simply remembering my name is not “personalization.”  Assigning me to the same segment as my friend is not “personalization.”  Staying up all night writing top-product-per-product rules is not “personalization.”  

Your garage sale is not personalized. The digital “concierge” approach is not only easier to operate (due to predictive analytics, real-time content personalization, and machine learning), but it generates better experiences, increased conversion rates, and higher loyalty. And it’s scalable.

You can break your back, trying to create 1,000 segments for 1,000,000 shoppers or you can adopt the technology that will allow each of those 1,000,000 shoppers to have his/her own online concierge.

Simon Mutlu

Simon has been in the eCommerce industry for 14 years, and he works with a selection of our key accounts. Before joining Reflektion, he served in a similar role at TellApart after leading sales and marketing organizations for Liveclicker, WhatCounts, and Digital River. He is the father of two daughters and he runs marathons frequently enough to defy sanity.