Personalization in Retail: How to Make the In-Store Experience Unique

Personal stylist matching scarf to customer's style

Walk into the Lively store in SoHo, New York City, and you’re welcomed by tropical greenery, plush carpets, and lounge chairs hanging from 10-foot wooden beams. It feels more like a clubhouse than a lingerie store, and that’s exactly the point.

A sales associate greets you, beverage in hand as she takes you to a bra fitting. But before getting out the tape measure, she’ll ask about your lifestyle, activity level, and style. The whole shopping experience feels deeply personal, like you’re hanging out with a girlfriend. Most ladies walk out with four bras after a fitting.

The idea that a personalized one-on-one experience, can increase sales and influence consumer behavior isn’t novel. Almost half (40%) of U.S. consumers say they’ve purchased something more expensive than they originally planned because their customer experience was personalized. And in one Infosys survey, 86% of consumers said personalization has at least some impact on what they purchase. Personalizing retail shopping leads to better experiences, more word-of-mouth promotion, and increased customer loyalty.

Retail businesses don’t need a sophisticated tech stack or a huge budget to create a personalized shopping experience. You can use a broad range of information—like purchase history, browsing history, hobbies, interests, birthdays, or likes and dislikes—to tailor some aspect of the shopping experience for a customer.

Let’s look at the various ways you can successfully personalize the in-store experience. 

Start by collecting the right data

Personalization relies on data, so you’ll need to collect pertinent information before you can start. 

First, audit what you already know. Look at your customer profiles and see what basic identifying information you have. Build customer profiles with information from all your data sources—email list, point-of-sale (POS), in-store sign-up sheets, and whatever else you use to store customer info. Make note of:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Email
  • Age
  • Phone number
  • Birthday
  • How they heard about your store
  • Who helped them during their in-store experiences
  • Who they typically shop for in your store

Now it’s time to dig deeper by looking at transactional data. This includes an individual’s purchase history, which you can add their customer profile, as well as overall sales trends.

For example, see which products shoppers frequently purchase together or successively. Your POS should be able to tell you these types of insights to help inform your personalization strategy.

After you have a lay of the land, identify the gaps. Let’s say you want to commemorate customers’ anniversaries. Add a field in the customer profile for their first purchase date. You can then set up notifications to remind you of the event and create automations to personalize the milestone—for example, a triggered email including a personalized discount code.

Or maybe you want to celebrate customers’ birthdays with customized discounts, gifts, or points. Add a birthday field in your customer profiles so that when a customer makes a purchase at your point-of-sale on their birthday, your checkout staff can offer them a gift or a reward. 

Sephora celebrates birthdays as part of its Beauty Insider Rewards program. By collecting customers’ birth dates at sign up, Sephora is able to prompt its Insiders to choose a free makeup item. Some items are only available in-store, while others are offered exclusively to Insiders who have collected a certain number of points.

If you don’t have the information you need to celebrate these milestones, train your associates to obtain relevant data at checkout. They can ask customers a new question during each transaction to further build out profiles as you add more tactics to your retail personalization strategy.

Take an omnichannel approach to your data ecosystem 

Retailers who have more control over their entire data ecosystem can more easily leverage data to create personalized experiences. Though the in-store shopping experience is important, it’s equally important to connect the dots between what’s going on offline and online. Today’s consumers interact with brands on multiple channels—bricks-and-mortar stores being just one aspect of the larger experience.

It’s critical to sync customer history between online and offline channels. Though you might see ecommerce and physical retail as two distinct channels and departments, it’s all the same in the eyes of the customer. This idea of unified commerce—a fully integrated online and offline retail brand experience—allows retailers to put the data together and paint a bigger picture based on all inputs.

That’s why it’s important to find a POS that automatically centralizes and syncs offline and online purchase history. If a customer needs to replace their favorite pair of jeans, originally purchased in your store two years ago, they should be able to immediately find out what variant they bought, down to the size, color, and style.

This is only possible when all data is in one place.

Customize your promotions, discounts, and coupons

Blanketed discounts have their time and place, but when it comes to retail personalization, retailers are better served tailoring these incentives. Of consumers who have experienced personalization, 67% are highly in favor of targeted coupons, and 62% prefer personalized offers or promotions based on past purchases

A straightforward way to personalize offers is to refer back to the customer data you already have. Celebrate birthdays or share promotions going on in their geographic area.

You can also personalize promotions based on customer history: purchases, event attendance, online behavior, and more.

Here’s an example: if a customer purchased lipstick once before, you might then send them a coupon for 30% off their next purchase of that same brand. Or, knowing that lipstick should be changed annually, you can offer a discount on any lipstick in your store 11 months from the date of purchase. Both will encourage in-store exploration and product discovery.

Empower your employees to make informed product recommendations

Much like promotions should be targeted, product recommendations should be, too. More than 40% of consumers say they expect staff in a brand’s physical store to know their online purchase history—but only 19% have actually experienced this. 

The best solution is to equip staff with a mobile POS so they can quickly access customer profiles and purchase histories across channels to deliver this one-to-one experience customers have come to expect. When training a retail associate, arm them with the tools and knowledge they need to be able to confidently speak about products, and emphasize the importance of connecting with customers authentically. 

A few simple ways your employees can make more informed recommendations include:

  • Analyzing POS data. Determine which products are frequently purchased during the same transaction. Once your staff has that data on hand, they can make recommendations in person while customers shop or when they check out. Assuming your POS is integrated with your online store, your staff should be able to access all customer history across sales channels for a holistic view. 
  • Asking about lifestyle and interests. Like our friends at Lively, your staff should take the time to understand a customer’s preferences and work with them to find the product that best fits their needs. 
  • Asking about upcoming events or milestones. Your staff should also proactively ask about upcoming events that could influence the products customers are looking for.

Drive traffic to your store via email and SMS marketing

Omnichannel marketing is key to personalized in-store experiences, too. Where email is a standard practice for retailers, consider getting more personal and connecting with customers via text or by phone to remind them to visit your bricks-and-mortar location. Even if you’re not launching sophisticated marketing campaigns, you should always tailor your conversations based on customer behavior. 

These segments could be based on event attendance, product categories, and any other shared characteristics you notice among your customer base.

Here’s a scenario as an example: you sell running gear and host an in-store event to promote a new sneaker. A few weeks later, you introduce running shorts from the same brand. Knowing that event attendees have some level of interest in that brand, you can launch an email or SMS campaign targeted at those individuals. Your messaging might be something along the lines of, “Hope you enjoyed [Brand]’s sneaker debut! We just launched their new shorts—come check them out in-store.”

Want to do this more efficiently? Explore clienteling tools like the Endear Shopify app, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that doubles as a messaging platform. 

With Endear, you and your staff can view your customers’ shopping activity and preferences across all channels and message them with personalized lookbooks and product recommendations.

Other instances to leverage email and SMS to create more personalized in-store experiences include: 

  • Back-in-stock/out-of-stock reminders. If a customer visits your store in search of a specific product and you don’t have it, train associates to note in the POS system to add them to the back-in-stock notification campaigns. Likewise, if a product a customer frequently purchases or expressed interest in is going out of stock, send a targeted, automated campaign.
  • Price changes. Notify customers when products go on sale. Create segments based on product categories or purchase history to target campaigns and product recommendations to different customer groups.
  • Event notifications. If you have an event series or plan to host future events similar to previous ones, create a segment for event-interested shoppers. Send them emails and SMS messages about upcoming events your store is involved with.
  • Flash/VIP sales. Identify top spenders and send them exclusive offers and discounts. Consider hosting and promoting extended VIP shopping hours or VIP-only sales.

Leverage in-store technology 

Sephora is well-known for its high-tech personalization efforts. Another example of this isColor IQ, an in-store technology that scans a customer's face so shoppers can find the perfect hues of makeup products.

Other in-store technologies leveraged by notable retailers to create a more personalized experience include:

  • NARS Cosmetics’ virtual try-ons, enabled by augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Customers can use counter-side iPads to virtually try on makeup products in real time. They started as tools for associates but have since become customer-facing and a key data-collection tool. 
  • AdoreMe’s largest store in Tennessee features 3D scanners that allow its sales associates to give customers a perfect fit—and update their measurements when they visit again. Their other stores offer smart display-enabled fitting rooms, giving shoppers the option to request a different size or color without opening the door.

Of course, you don’t want to deploy technology for the sake of technology. As Bree Richmond of clothing brand Reformation says, “The technology is not to replace the human interaction.” Any new features you offer should augment what your staff is able to provide—for example, new sizes in changing rooms, or an accurate foundation color match.

Think carefully about how technology like AR, interactive displays, mobile apps, or proprietary options could support what your team is already doing. Could you make your associates’ processes more efficient, like alerting them when a customer needs help in a fitting room? Or give customers faster service options, like self-checkout?

Personalize the retail experience for your customers

Retail personalization is an effective way to drive foot traffic and boost in-store sales. To successfully use retail personalization in your stores, try the following:

  1. Collect any customer data you’re missing, like birthdays, anniversaries, or other important milestones.
  2. Take an omnichannel approach: sync your online and offline data so customers get the same completely customized experience no matter where they shop.
  3. Customize your discounts, promotions, coupons, and other offerings based on the data you’ve collected.
  4. Empower your employees to make recommendations, and to collect any missing data to enable future personalized experiences.
  5. Drive traffic to your store with personalized SMS and email marketing.
  6. Leverage in-store technology to personalize the shopping experience and augment your employees’ efforts.

If you can add any level of personalization into your plans, you’ll be steps ahead of most small business retailers. Where to start? Request more info about Shopify POS to see how it can help you create a personalized in-store experience for your customers and help you compete with market-leading brands.