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Drapers Roundtable: Personalisation strategies must be driven from the top down

The best strategy to build a personalised experience with genuine customer benefit was the subject of debate at Drapers’ latest roundtable.

Drapers personalisation roundtable

Drapers personalisation roundtable

The focus for personalisation is changing in a world dominated by privacy and data-security issues. While today’s shoppers are the happiest yet to share information about their lives, they are also the most sceptical about the use of this data and easily disappointed if personalisation fails to live up to the mark.

To discuss the best way forward Drapers invited marketing and digital experts from Louis Vuitton, Harrods and Thomas Pink to a roundtable event at London’s Haymarket Hotel on March 22, held in association with personalisation and optimisation provider Monetate.

The session opened with a definition of personalisation in 2016. For Monetate senior director, global solutions consulting Alex Henry, retailers are shifting focus to a more customer-centric view: “There is no silver bullet for personalisation. It’s a big business transformation, but it’s starting to put the customer in the middle and look at their lifetime value.”

Louis Vuitton eservices manager Melanie Bouvier

Melanie Bouvier, Louis Vuitton eservices manager

This push towards analysing lifetime value is already taking place at Thomas Pink, reported global marketing director Alex Field: “We tailor made a content plan for each segment and then tracked it. We gave more content to the top tier, as that’s where the most lifetime value is. That’s the starting point, but there are lots of things underneath like simple ‘clientelling’ in store and making sure our email programme is tailored.”

Although luxury retailers find it relatively easy to tailor the experience for top-tier shoppers who “live the brand”, personalisation for the next tier down is a concern for Louis Vuitton eservices manager Melanie Bouvier: “You usually base your personalisation on a one-to-one relationship, but with the lower tier that’s impossible because it’s so big. So it’s about finding what can help you do this and make it genuine.”

New Look group digital director Jack Smith sees the value in driving personalisation from a lifetime-value perspective: “If you’re trying to deliver something that makes the customer like you and want to shop with you, then that’s when you stop thinking in a transactional way and start thinking in a true relationship way.”


Balancing act

Striking the right balance between selling product and brand is a challenge, acknowledged Jack Wills head of online trading Dale Western: “When I first started, our communications were pretty much all brand. Then we swung too much the other way and we weren’t talking about brand at all. So we’re trying to get the right balance. It’s about working out which customers should get the content-led messages and who should receive promotional or product messages.”

Harrods is shifting from promotion-led communications towards experiences, noted Melissa Alvarez-Campbell, brand marketing manager at the luxury department store: “Rather than just pushing product, we send shoppers invitations to special events with relevant brands we know they love.”

The Hawes & Curtis welcome programme incorporates three emails before customers receive any direct selling communication.

Head of ecommerce Antony Comyns explained: “Even though we’re a promotional brand, we still believe in that approach, rather than just chucking product at the customer. Good personalisation is when you don’t even notice it’s going on.”

Monetate senior ecommerce consultant David Woods believes that today’s customer is disappointed when the experience is not personalised: “When you get an email from a retailer that contains irrelevant content, it’s disappointing because we give companies so much data they can use to tailor the experience.”

Sara Lewis Harrods

Sara Lewis, Harrods marketing project manager

Alex Henry acknowledged the importance of privacy and the perceived value of data sharing: “People are willing to give information if they think they’re going to get value from it. If something is seen as too drastic from a personalisation perspective, it’s typically because the customer did not expect the data they shared to be used in that particular way.

“Retailers need to re-learn how to ask for data and explain how sharing it will create a better experience. Sometimes brands can be afraid to put explicit data requests in the journey, but digitally we need to start asking customers the questions we would ask in person.”

New Look customers do not mind supplying personal data if they see the value and know they can back out, said Smith: “Only 5% of shoppers are willing to use a social login to log into our website. It comes back to the value exchange and fears that their feed would be peppered with advertising.”

The importance of taking a multichannel approach to personalisation was noted by Harrods marketing project manager Sara Lewis: “The key thing is tooling up your retail team. The future for personalisation will be powered by human interaction and human intelligence, then thinking about how to marry that online.”

Field sees the value of internal collaboration as the best way to drive better strategy: “How many of us get our VM [visual merchandising] teams to speak to our online customer journey teams? We should put store associates together with the email guys because then we can compare the language we use online and in store.”

The move towards a cross-channel customer-centric experience means reporting metrics are also changing, moving away from simple conversion rate to tracking product journey and consumer psychology.

“We have just implemented software that enables us to look at conversion by product,” explained Comyns. “For instance, there might be a bestseller in store that received phenomenal interest online, but a small conversion rate. We need to work out why this is.”

Alex Henry Monetate

Alex Henry, senior director, global solutions consulting, Monetate

Without Prejudice head of retail/wholesale Alex Foley, acknowledged that the flipside of conversion is the return rate: “It is easy to run promotions online, but are customers retaining those products? The key measure of the success of personalisation is whether the product is staying with the customer.”

Henry believes real value will come from understanding the customer analytics, while Smith agreed that finding the right analysts who can interpret data, spot trends and know how to react, is a challenge.

Field concurred: “The skill is to explain insights in a language normal people understand. I’m excited about the prospect of software that shows the customer journey visually, not in data. Imagine being able to trace a customer through social channels, creating visual journeys of their lifestyle, social demographics, income levels and competitor brand sets, creating moodboards that pull out the trends per segment. That would be huge.”

As personalisation focuses on creating a genuine relationship based on fair value exchange between customer and retailer, interpreting insights into consumer psychology across channels, and being agile enough to react, will be crucial.


Harrods: Melissa Alvarez-Campbell, brand marketing manager; Sara Lewis, marketing project manager

Hawes & Curtis: Antony Comyns, head of ecommerce

Jack Wills: Dale Western, head of online trading

Louis Vuitton: Melanie Bouvier, eservices manager

New Look: Jack Smith, group digital director

Not Just a Label: Charlotte Chibani, head of digital

Thomas Pink: Alex Field, global marketing director

Warehouse: Cristelle Delaporte, digital marketing manager

Without Prejudice: Alex Foley, head of retail/wholesale

Sponsor: Monetate

Alex Henry, senior director, global solutions consulting; David Woods, senior ecommerce consultant; Max Childs, marketing director EMEA


James Knowles, online content editor; Charlotte Rogers, features and special reports writer

To read our personalisation report click here.

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