No conversation in retail technology misses out the phrase ‘personalisation’. From industry events sharing case studies about achieving a single customer viewpoint, to discussions about getting the most from artificial intelligence – the main challenge retailers are facing today is how to improve customer experience and personalising that experience is a top priority.

“There’s no doubt that personalisation is a hot topic,” agrees Mark Wright, managing director of digital at Jack Wills. “But it feels like we’re very much at the start of our journey of personalisation.”

Two years ago, when Wright joined the business, the fashion retailer was treating every customer the same way, with no real distinction between customer groups other than gender.

“We knew nothing about their shopping mission or how we could help them through the website shopping experience,” he explains. “Or how we could link that to show them a better suggestion of our product range.”

Wright had a vision of making the website experience quicker and easier for those returning customers who shopped for their familiar core staples, such as a Jack Wills hooded jumper. “That’s what personalisation is really all about, how we can inspire the customer.”

Since his arrival at the retailer, Jack Wills has replatformed its eCommerce efforts onto Salesforce Commerce Cloud – with plans to soon start using the vendor’s AI Einstein tool for recommendations – as well as making significant changes to its relationship with personalisation and testing partner, Monetate.

After reassessing the multiple contracts, with multiple vendors Jack Wills was using, it relaunched with Monetate, using its testing software on all of its websites in the UK, Europe, US and Hong Kong.

“I wanted to drive a proper test and learn mentality, how we can push the boundaries and understand customer behaviour.”

Sooner after, Wright recruited an optimisation manager who works with Monetate’s Test & Segment platform on a daily basis to get the most out of its AB testing programmes, which range from improving button colours all the way through to analysing the entire online customer journey. And it soon figured out the checkout was its biggest risk to lost sales.

“It was my gut instinct, but we were able to quantify that with Monetate,” says Wright.

Five months later, the retailer launched a new checkout and also introduced personalisation to the homepage using automated rules. Jack Wills now places a cookie on the website for a new customer, and a returning shopper is defined as being male or female and given a specific gendered landing page. Every couple of months this is refreshed to ensure the retailer isn’t making too many assumptions and this strategy is dropped altogether at Christmas when many customers are visiting the website to buy gifts.

“It’s not rocket science, but we’re taking away a click from your journey as a customer,” says Wright, noting that the retailer does not need an overly complicated recommendation system as the breadth of its product range isn’t that vast.

These improvements to the website delivered an increase in conversion rate for new customers of 12% and a drop in basket abandonment.

“Monetate has given us the insight we needed to test, target, and personalise the customer experience across a multitude of variables, improving the customer experience for our visitors, and driving our online revenues.”

The “Amazon factor”

But how do retailers even begin to compete with digital juggernauts – safe to say companies like Amazon – which are constantly resetting the standards of modern shopping?

“It’s the ‘Amazon factor’,” explains Wright. “I spoke to my team about a year ago, asking them how many times do you go to Amazon and use the search bar versus going through the menu of categories – I can’t remember the last time I used the menu.”

Wright describes how Amazon is resetting customer expectations on everything, from search all the way through to fulfilment.

“I don’t even question if something is going to be in stock, the primary thing is when am I going to get it and then for how much,” he says.

“For some individuals they say that they don’t get all of this technology, and in the same breath these people are getting in an Uber or using Alexa or Sonos to create a playlist. It’s affecting all our daily lives and it’s incredibly exciting, but it’s data that is at the heart of everything and we need to embrace the data to improve everything.”

Wright describes himself as an “old school retailer” saying he believes in the “magic created in stores”.

“Online transactions are functional and meet your need, but in the store we still have the opportunity to delight customers with fantastic service and going over and above – it’s about bringing those experiences together.”