I recently hosted the webinar “Trends in Retail and the Personalized Experience,” during which I discussed research on the latest trends in retail with expert panelists Scott Duby, director of Global Consumer Industry for IBM, and Kim Garretson, principal of Realizing Innovation and BrainTrust panel commentator for

The key takeaway from the webinar was that technology is an enabler, but it’s not the complete solution when it comes to delivering effective personalization in retail.

For example, my first question for the panelists was, “What can retailers do to provide a truly personalized customer experience?” Scott cited a recent personalized experience with a car rental company, where the employee remembered his customer details and even asked for his feedback on how to improve future service, which made him feel as though the employee cared. In addition to this customer service example, Scott said, “Technology can be an enabler on a large scale, but with small instances such as this, a little bit of training and execution is needed to help truly personalize those experiences.”

Kim answered the question by saying: “Personalization often is the use of big-data analytics to look back at the history of transactions, but what is generated by technology is still a guess. I believe in individualization, which means you just ask—through a one-on-one conversation—what the consumer wants. In other words, you foster a better relationship with the consumer going forward, versus just using technology to look backward and make guesses.”

Other questions the panelists answered during the webinar included:

  • Why do you think retailers such as Walmart are closing brick-and-mortar stores? In contrast, why are retailers including Amazon, Warby Parker, Bonobos and Nordstrom successful with or looking to open physical stores?
  • Do you think retailers are prioritizing the right channels and technologies? What can retailers do to provide a true omnichannel experience?
  • How can associates be more knowledgeable about the customer?
  • How are technologies helping retailers in personalization?
  • What personalization trends do you see in the future for retail?

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