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I grew up in the 1970s in a small Italian town. Every few days as a young child, I would walk alongside my mother as she ran errands from the corner fruit stall to our neighbourhood butcher and finally to the bakery for fresh bread.
We didn’t have a supermarket where you could buy everything in one place, but the owners of every shop in town knew my mother by name and could anticipate what she needed.
We didn’t have a supermarket where you could buy everything in one place, but the owners of every shop in town knew my mother by name and could anticipate what she needed. They even knew about our life at home (my mother has always been a big talker) and would order special items for us on holidays or if we were hosting a dinner party. Looking back, the owners of those shops were really just very effective at using customer data to deliver great experiences.
That small-town shopping feel is hard to come by these days, even in my old home. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the convenience and lower cost of supermarkets drove people away from their local shops, even if they lamented the impersonal experience of buying their groceries in a mega store.
That said, we’re now seeing the pendulum swing back towards personalization. People with the means are willing to spend a bit more on services that put them at the centre of the buying experience. Obviously that doesn’t mean we’re seeing the rebirth of the milkman, but we are seeing more people get fresh produce delivered to their homes each week or turn to specialist shops that cater to their specific needs.
“The level of insight brands now have into their customers has already allowed them to provide more tailored offers and promotions.”
Supermarkets are responding by doing more to deliver a super-personalized shopping experience at scale, and today’s analytics technologies are making this increasingly possible. The level of insight brands now have into their customers has already allowed them to provide more tailored offers and promotions.
The science of customer understanding continues to evolve too. Just as our butcher would start sourcing lamb for us the week before Easter, brands can now anticipate peoples’ needs based on what’s happening in their lives and act on them. Importantly, they can do this effectively for hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of customers.
With some commentators suggesting that 20% of all our grocery shopping will be done online by 2025, personalization will become even more important in the very near future. The so-called “digital shelf” is almost infinite, and customers will expect brands to make the buying experience simple, remember their preferences for repeat orders, and recommend new products that based on their digital footprint.
Brands will continue to focus on the human elements of the buying journey and simply use better data and technologies to enhance those.
I use the term “Augmented Humanity” to describe this trend. Rather than going crazy with analytics or emerging tools like AI and chatbots to replace customer experiences, brands will continue to focus on the human elements of the buying journey and simply use better data and technologies to enhance those.
There is no doubt people have become obsessed with speed and convenience, but these cannot come at the expense of relevance. Meanwhile, the all-in-on-place appeal of major retail stores has begun to lose its meaning in the Internet age. The differentiator for brands will increasingly be their ability to make customers feel individually cared for, just like the mom-and-pop shops I grew up with.