Overwhelming. That’s the only word I can use to describe the sheer number of personalization vendors present at Shop.org this week in Dallas. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend many sessions – so my impressions are shaped primarily by many meetings and spending time walking and talking on the show floor. My top takeaway was that the personalization vendors landscape needs to change (and it is). The other two notables on the agenda were mobile and AR/VR – I’ll touch on each briefly.
Glut of Personalization Options – Consolidation is Imminent
Between an increasing number of client inquiries (clients can see What’s Hot in Digital Commerce Marketing) and the rapid movement of personalization along the Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising (login required), it came as no surprise that there would be numerous personalization software providers at this event.
What was shocking to me however is how many NEW names I stumbled across given that it’s already a crowded space. Gartner’s Market Guide for Personalization Vendors chronicles no less than 36 players who provide some form of personalization. Some, like SentientAI, come at the problem from the search angle – with an aim to simplify search through AI driven refinements – eventually able to use their machine learning to do more sophisticated personalization. Others, like AgilOne (not new to me, but not yet covered as a ‘personalization vendor’ by Gartner), emanate from the analytics landscape and are expanding their abilities to compete directly in the predictive personalization realm.
These new entrants are emerging at a time with larger marketing ‘cloud’ vendors and even mid-sized commerce platforms are launching their own machine-learning, AI-based or algorithm driven personalization capabilities. Salesforce announced Einstein at the show – adding personalization to a rapidly growing marketing and commerce platform play, while Kibo commerce, a roll-up of commerce capability for mid-sized brands purchased Baynote to add personalization to their offering.
While the technology and capabilities are exciting, we still see clients at the early stages of taking advantage of the possibilities. Few have their data houses in order enough to make great use of the solutions and instead are executing on very basic use cases such as similar product recommendations or basic gender or geo-based optimization. For marketers, it’s not about personalization tech – it’s about delivering relevance to your customers. Vendors should focus on executing with clients to drive value and new players might want to think twice about entering a market space that is this crowded and confusing. Marketers thinking about personalization should drill down to understand exactly WHICH use cases each point solution provides, verify proof points for similar clients and be cognizant that vendors may be gobbled up or fade away in the not too distant future.
Mobile Remains Top of Mind – Bots, VPAs & Apps Should Be On Marketers’ Minds
Most vendors at the show touted some form of omni-channel customer experience solution that included strong representation of mobile capabilities. However, we already know that mobile conversion rates remain drastically lower than tablet and desktop. Some say this is due context – but in many cases this is due to a poorly designed mobile shopping and checkout experience.
Facebook prompted retailers to think about using messenger and bots to leverage mobile for sales conversion. Newstore is a new commerce engine that’s betting on a mobile first approach for luxury brands looking to create a highly personal, convenient experience that nearly obviates the need for a traditional site. Each of these approaches has its merits – but to believe in them, the bets that marketers must make are on the speed of consumer adoption of bots, VPAs and even how quickly the app gap (the inconvenience of downloading an app and storing it on the phone for a brand that has low intimacy/loyalty) will be reduced to marginally zero.
Surprise, AR/VR Make it to the Main Stage
I was pleasantly surprised to see Augmented and Virtual reality, topics that we tackled in our spring keynote A Look to the Future, A Plan for Today (free) as well as What’s Hot research, made it to the main stage during a Fast Track session where execs from Google and Sephora talked through what they are building and how AR/VR are already having an impact in retail scenarios. While all admitted that Augmented Commerce is yet in its early days – the speed with which the tools are improving means that marketers should be thinking about what it would mean to their brands if they could create an immersive experience. Advice I give – that was echoed by Google’s Sophie Miller – is to start thinking now about your content catalog. Creating 3D assets is no small feat, but if you start to think now about which products or categories are potential candidates for these unique experiences, you will set yourself up for success as consumer demand and ability to consume immersive content increases.