Cool or creepy? How far to push personalisation without upsetting the consumer

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With everyone extolling the values of personalisation for improving the customer experience and getting closer than ever to the customer, it can be hard to know how up close and personal to get. The danger has always been that get too personal with your offering and marketing and you may be seen as being intrusive. Be too aloof on the other hand and you may be missing a huge opportunity for your brand.

A new study from personalisation specialists RichRelevance however claims to understand exactly how far to push the personalisation button without upsetting consumers. The survey, entitled Creepy or Cool, asked UK consumers to rate various new digital enhancements to the shopping experience – from facial recognition to location tracking.

The results found it was less intrusive personalisation that won over. Nearly three quarters of respondents (72%) said that they liked personalisation of product recommendations based on purchasing habits.

Nearly two thirds (63%) said they liked the idea of a personalised map that showed the location of items and efficient store paths that would enable them to navigate stores more conveniently. Similarly, 43% liked the idea of in-store location deals triggered by stores tracking their location whilst shopping.

But whilst all the above were rated “cool”, it seems customers are turned off by some of the more intrusive capabilities of personalisation. Although the technology exists to allow customers to be instantly recognised when they walk in store – such as their mobile phone signalling their arrival – more than three quarters (76%) said that being greeted by their name when walking in the store after being recognised in such a way would definitely be defined as creepy by them.

Similarly, seven in 10 shoppers said that facial recognition technology that identified age and gender in order to display product recommendations would also freak them out.

The survey showed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it was the customers in the capital who were most accepting of personalisation with only 2% of consumers in London labelling instore personalisation technologies “creepy” compared to 30% in Yorkshire and The Humber.

There was also a major difference in acceptance based upon age. Half of under 30s said that personalised product recommendations in the dressing room would be “cool” but only a quarter of over 45s said that they would welcome such capabilities. Meanwhile whilst 63% of under 29s loved the idea of location tracing triggering personalised promotions, more than half (56%) of over 60s said this would be creepy.

“While it’s always been a well-known fact that UK consumers are keen protectors of their privacy and personal space, we now have a clearer view into where they are increasingly embracing – and even expecting – tailored shopping services in the fast-changing world of retail,” said Diane Kegley, CMO of RichRelevance. “Personalisation in the form of facial recognition or personal greeting at store entrance may not be welcome, but we’re seeing a trend of younger consumers who are open to a connected shopping experience—receiving recommendations delivered within their personal space like dressing rooms and smartphones, and allowing in-store tracking if it means getting a better deal.” 

The survey was based on a study of 1,049 consumers in the UK and was conducted in May. 

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