Gartner Webinar offers a reminder of the importance of the big picture

Sometimes the 30,000-foot view is hard to come by.

Say you’re an online retailer frantically focused on traffic numbers, conversion rates and average revenue per visit. Maybe you have abandonment issues — shopping cart abandonment issues. How in the world are you supposed to step back and think big thoughts or take in the big picture?

Penny cutlineThat’s what analysts are for. Analysts like Gartner’s Penny Gillespie, who is paid big bucks to think big thoughts about the state and future of e-commerce. She realizes that in the rough and tumble world of retail, there are tactics and then there is strategy.

Tactics are necessary — to fend off competition, to make next quarter’s number, to survive. But strategy is vital. Strategy is how you build a business and keep it  growing into the next decade and beyond. It’s a longer view.

It’s just that sort of long view that Gillespie presents in a new Gartner webinar with BloomReach CEO Raj De Datta that focuses on personalization and what consumers expect from a personalized experience. It’s the sort of video that allows you to take a deep breath and think for a minute — a few minutes actually — not only about how retail is changing now, but what is coming next.
Raj cutlineIn the webinar, Gillespie lays out the six types of personalization that e-commerce sites adopt — everything from allowing customers to set preferences, such as page layout and font size, to the gold standard: actually knowing your customer personally and offering products, recommendations and help based on that knowledge.

“This could be as simple as knowing the customer’s birthday,” Gillespie says in the webinar. But more importantly, it can be much more once a retailer turns to smart technology, such as big data, analytics and machine learning.

“And we look at how the analytics are being used and coupled with search, so that all of the sudden when Penny is looking for a dress and puts in her search requirements, we now know what kind of dress, color, size and certain attributes that are of interest to Penny and important to Penny, and continually build on those to understand who Penny is and serve Penny what she needs” Gillespie says.

In short, what many had come to accept as personalization — shoppers who bought this, also bought that etc. — wasn’t personalization at all, but instead consisted of putting people in buckets, as De Datta explains in the webinar.

“The old school of knowing the customer was really not knowing the customer, but pretending to know the customer and pretending to know the customer through the behavior of others,” Gillespie adds. “What we’re seeing with this introduction of smart machines, smart technology and self-learning is actually knowing the customer through technology.”

Listening to Gillespie, it’s apparent that we are all in for a continuation of the break-neck speed of change in the field of e-commerce: machines doing the heavy lifting, freeing people to tackle creative challenges; sites anticipating a consumer’s intent before the consumer herself is aware of it.

“And what I mean by that,” she says, “is that the customer experience is going to be seamless and quicker and more efficient.”

Which is obviously great for consumers. But it also could be great for retailers, at least retailers who find the time now to plan their strategy for the future.

Photo of Penny Gillespie by Mike Cassidy; photo of Raj De Datta courtesy of BloomReach; photo of 30,000-foot view by James Temple published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.