Is pre-emptive shopping the next step in personalised eCommerce?

Is pre-emptive shopping the next step in personalised eCommerce? Howard Williams works in customer experience at Parker Software. He leads the marketing activities of Parker Software’s global customer team, with a focus on the consumer, their experience, and how it can be continually improved. Parker Software specialises in the development of live chat and business process automation software. The company specifically focuses on businesses operating in the e-business, marketing and retail sectors.

In the age of the customer, personalisation is a more pressing need than ever before. In the age of data, it’s becoming increasingly possible to feed that need. Indeed, data-led personalisation is one of the hottest trends in ecommerce.

But are we getting ahead of ourselves? A new wave of customer-led personalisation known as pre-emptive shopping suggests so.

What is pre-emptive shopping?

Pre-emptive shopping is a customer-led personalisation opportunity powered by automation software. It allows customers to automate their shopping experience for personalised results.

One example of this comes in the shape of the Tesco and IFTT partnership, which allows customers to create convenient shopping ‘if’ rules. (For example: if my favourite brand of chocolate is on offer, add it my basket.)

In other words, pre-emptive shopping lets your customers set up rules about their basket. If a condition is met, then a product is added or removed automatically.

It’s important to note here what pre-emptive shopping is not. Pre-emptive shopping isn’t adding items to a customer’s basket without warning or confirmation. Nor is it led solely by data — the customer must be in control.

Customer-led vs data-led personalisation

Personalisation is powerful, but it’s all too often forgotten why. Personalised service, products and experiences are so appealing because they give us a sense of control. A sense that we’re special. Herein lies the strength of personalisation options like pre-emptive shopping.

Pre-emptive shopping is customer-led, rather than data-led. This is a key difference when compared to other personalisation techniques. Customer-led personalisation does more than offer the illusion of control to the customer. It actively and explicitly hands that control over.

This can trigger something known as the IKEA effect. The IKEA effect is a phenomenon in which people value things they’ve helped create more than those they didn't. Pre-emptive shopping, then, could increase the value the customer gives their experience.

While data-led personalisation is powerful, so too is giving control to customers. The ecommerce sweet spot lies in the degree of convenience and customisation you can add to that control.

Using pre-emptive shopping

Pre-emptive shopping lends itself to conditional purchases and finding product alternatives.

Conditional purchases would be any that rely on external factors. For instance, weather-based purchases. Think ‘if the weather exceeds 22 degrees Celsius, add this sun lotion to my recommended basket.’

Another example of a conditional purchase could relate to offers or deals. For example, ‘if the price of this pair of wellies drops below £15, then add them to my recommended basket.’ Or, ‘if there’s a deal on pet supplies, send me an email.’

Alternatively, customers can set up rules to generate alerts and alternatives. For instance, an environmentally conscious customer could create rules to avoid harmful products. For example, by asking it to pre-emptively remove products with palm oil and replace them with an offered alternative without it.

Similarly, a customer with allergies could filter allergens from their list. (A pre-emptive alternative added instead of a product containing their allergen.)

Risks of pre-emptive shopping

Pre-emptively mess up: One issue with pre-emptive shopping is that you could end up adding something that’s no longer wanted. This could result in upset customers or an increased return rate.

However you can avoid this by having the customer confirm any added or changed products before final checkout.

Not every customer will want to use it: As with any use of automation, pre-emptive shopping comes with a risk of displacement and anxiety. As such, some customers will not want to use it.

Benefits of pre-emptive shopping

The convenience of automation: Allowing customers to set up pre-emptive shopping rules means that they don’t have to spend time looking for alternatives. Nor must they check the weather forecast before buying that BBQ lighter fluid.

Catering to customer morals: Given that 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for ethical products, this is nothing to sniff at.

Give the power back to the customer

Whether pre-emptive shopping is the next game-changer remains to be seen. But from the idea comes something worth considering.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that personalisation is about what the customer wants. So, alongside our data-led personalisation, why not give some power back to them?

It might be by letting customers automate their mundane shopping tasks, it might not be. Either way, let customers share in the personalisation of their experience. 

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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