Personalized retail shopping experiences are a cornerstone of successful omnichannel strategies. Having just returned from RSPA’s RetailNOW 2016, the topic of how retailers can tailor shopping experiences to their customers on all channels is top of mind. I heard from many solutions providers looking for tools that deliver the recognition and relevant offers shoppers receive online and now have come to also expect in-store shopping environment.

Online, it’s a given that a website will greet you with a displayed “Hello, David” however this may differ from his perception if a sales associate (whom David has never seen before) greets him the same way when he walks into a store.

Crossing personal boundaries and giving shoppers the impression their privacy has been invaded, can cost you business. A study by Ithaca College assistant professor Lisa Barnard, found that personalized messaging is effective in retail, but when messages or the manner in which they are delivered becomes “creepy” or suggest that “Big Brother is watching,” the customer is actually less likely to make a purchase.

The Right Way to Collect Data

To offer personalized retail shopping experiences, your business is likely gathering data through a variety of methods: point of sale (POS), beacons, smartphones, loyalty apps, payment transactions, social media, Wi-Fi — even facial recognition, as some solutions providers discussed at RetailNOW. This data is valuable for understanding buying behavior, inventory replenishing, improving marketing strategies, and labor and management decisions. But you can’t be cavalier about shoppers’ privacy.

Be transparent with your customers about your data collection and use policies. Be specific about what you are collecting, and clearly communicate the benefits to the customer – such as personalized retail offers. Last year’s Accenture Personalization Survey confirmed shoppers are willing to give up information if they get something in return: 82 percent were willing to provide information or allow it to be collected if they received in-store communications offering automatic discounts, exclusive deals, or special offers.

Take precautions to keep data safe, especially contact, payment, and other sensitive information, and let your customers know data security is a priority. You should also give customers a chance to opt out of data collection initiatives if they choose to.

Make sure your sales associates and other employees are educated on data collection methods and policies and can intelligently answer questions customers may ask. Don’t let sales associates guess about methods and policies and pass misinformation on to your customers.

The Right Way to Use Data

The proverb “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” can definitely apply when it comes to personalized retail customer service. Even when a litany of facts show up when a shopper with a smartphone returns to your store, it’s better to remember that the engagement should be customer lead, not data lead. The Accenture survey found nearly 60% of consumers said they want real time promotions and offers, but only 20% want retailers to know their location and only 14% want to share their browsing history.

Sales associates may be better off to greet a customer with the traditional, “How may I help you?” rather than, “Hi, David, we have that shirt you’ve been looking at in a size 15 1/2, and we understand you were just at the sports bar outside the stadium. How was that craft beer?”

Sales associates who are expert in personalized retail will balance what they already know with what they learn from engaging the customer. They will often ask for a name or email address (even if they know it) and enter information into their computers or mobile devices. Then it doesn’t seem strange that they can access information about the individual.

Of course, if a sales associate recognizes a frequent shopper, he or she should welcome the customer by name. Shoppers will think they have great memories.

It’s Really About Relationship

The goal of personalization is to make customers feel welcome, recognized, and appreciated. It’s not to prove how much you know about them or to do all of their thinking for them. Use the data you collect to create great customer experiences that will delight shoppers, while respecting their personal boundaries and preserving their comfort.

For tips on leveraging your existing data to be provide more relevant, personalized service, download our free eBook, The Digital Store Platform: Better data for survival in a customer-centric world, to learn how your data collection methods and store systems can be deployed to provide more valuable sales and marketing insights.

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