Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Web Analytics: Personalisation

Last Friday night, I had to transfer some money from my savings account to my current account, and in the process encountered an interesting case of personalisation.

Withdrawing the cash from the savings at the building society was a typically anonymous matter, even though I had to provide my account passbook and photo ID, but this only became apparent when I paid the money into my bank, just across the road.  I only had to provide the money and the debit card for my bank account, but as soon as my card had been scanned, the bank clerk began addressing me as David, and just by doing that, provided a much more personal service.

Earlier in the evening, I phoned the local take-away restaurant, and on the way back from the bank, I called in to pick up my order. I'd called them from my home landline, but hadn't provided a name or address.  However, I've ordered from the take-away before, and they'd evidently stored my data: at the top of the receipt for my order were my full name and address.  As I mentioned, I hadn't provided any information at all when I phoned the order through.  Was it surprising to see my name and address on the receipt?  Absolutely. Was it un-nerving?  Perhaps, but it's more a reflection of a local business using data and information to their advantage.  I don't know if they're going to use my purchase preferences to offer me particular choices or offers next time I order... I'll let you know.

Online, I'm not surprised when Amazon, or eBay, or any other e-commerce site, uses my login details and my activity on their site to try to provide me with relevant content or advertising.  So I've been searching for a particular author, or a particular album, movie or laptop - should I really be surprised that they've noticed, and now they're using the promotional space on their sites to show me advertising of similar products?  Is this scary new technology?  Or is it something that's been around for many years, and this is just its newest incarnation?

Back when I was at high school, I had a part time job as a sales assistant at the local shoe store.  It was easy enough - serve the customers, keep the shop floor well-stocked, tidy away surplus stock into the storage room.  Part of the sales training (it wasn't extensive) was to try to cross-sell - shoelaces, polish, all that stuff, and to sell to customers when we didn't have what they wanted.  For example - "Do you have this shoe in my size?"  A quick trip to the stock room would reveal that we didn't, but a check around the shelves would show that we had it in blue, or brown instead.  Or perhaps, if it was a shoe that looked like it was for the office, did we have a similar style.  Was it good customer service?  Was it personalisation?  I would certainly hope so, as it led to me selling many pairs of shoes (and frequent declines, but that was part of the job).  Did customers question how I'd manage to come with potential alternatives?  Did they marvel at the apparent depths of the stock room, or think it was freaky or scary that I'd been able to anticipate their needs, based on just one query?

Perhaps, then, we shouldn't be surprised, or alarmed, when a computer algorithm looks at our on-site browsing habits and tries to provide us with what we appear to be searching for.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if, when the technology permeates every area of our lives, we'll get used to it. Now we notice it,but when every website is using remarketing and every grocery store loyalty card is sending us personalized mobile coupons and when our own RFID-equipped clothing and other products start projecting suggested purchases once the item shows signs of needing replacement ;) Frog in the pot?