How Retailers Are Personalizing the Shopping Experience This Holiday Season

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The biggest story this holiday shopping season isn’t expected to be any specific toy or garment that’s flying off the shelves, but the way consumers are being recognized and how they’re finding the products they ultimately purchase when they shop inside physical stores. With holiday retail sales expected to increase just 1.8% this year, retailers with physical stores are looking to emulate their e-commerce counterparts in creating more personalized shopping experiences for high-value consumers.

By harnessing cross-device targeting and location-based technology, and taking full advantage of the mobile devices most shoppers and store associates already have in their pockets, retailers are providing consumers with more useful product recommendations, offers, and in-store assistance. Here are six ways that major retailers are personalizing the shopping experience this holiday season.

1. Saks Fifth Avenue: Helping salespeople form better relationships with shoppers
Saks will be working with at least two technology firms to offer more personalized service this holiday season. Its partnership with Loop Commerce gives customers a new way to purchase last-minute gifts. Even if the shipping cutoff date has passed, and the gift won’t arrive at the recipient’s home by the holiday, Loop notifies the recipient that a gift has been purchased and let’s them know it’s on the way. Saks has also partnered with Salesfloor to help its store associates increase sales. Associates can create personalized versions of the store’s website with their own product recommendations and custom look-books for high-value customers. The tool provides in-store associates with better ways to connect with local shoppers and follow up on previous store visits.

2. Target: Assisting shoppers in picking personalized gifts
Selecting the perfect gift is something that Target thinks technology can help with this holiday season. The retailer is introducing a digital tool called Wonderlist, which is designed to “assist shoppers in selecting personalized gifts.” Shoppers who visit on their desktop or mobile devices can choose from hundreds of “edited” gift ideas, which can then be filtered based on the personality type and interest of the gift recipient. Target has sorted recipients into four main personality categories, with hundreds of potential interests that influence the gifts that its website recommends. Wonderlist will be complemented by in-store spaces called Wondershops, where shoppers can find additional holiday-inspired items.

3. Toys R Us: Mobile apps to help store associates provide better service
Toys R Us is one of a number of retailers using “relevancy boosting software” to help store associates better meet the needs of in-store shoppers. The mega-toy retailer is working with a software company called Tulip Retail to better prepare its associates—many of which are seasonal workers this time of year—for the holiday rush. Associates can use a mobile app to see whether an item is in stock and also to look up a customer’s shopping profile to recommend complementary toys based on what that person already owns. Toys R Us is hoping that this level of customer service and personalization will help keep shoppers coming into physical stores, rather than doing the bulk of their shopping online.

4. The North Face: Using AI to meet shoppers’ needs
With hundreds of jackets in various styles, colors, and sizes, The North Face needed a way to simplify the shopping process for its customers. What the company came up with was a mobile app that lets users engage with Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence computer, to find the items they want in-store. The app asks all the same questions a retail associate might, like where the jacket will be used or what size a customer needs, and recommends the closest match based on those parameters. Although The North Face’s project was launched earlier this year, it’s expected to play an even larger role this holiday season.

5. Simon: Custom directions within large malls
The regional mall operator Simon is debuting “digital directories” as its upscale shopping centers to provide visitors with real-time assistance. Large interactive LCD touchscreens placed in high-traffic areas come to life as visitors approach and show the best route to specific stores within the mall. They also communicate with shoppers’ mobile phones. Shoppers can send directions from the touchscreens to their smartphones for more personalized advice. Simon’s touchscreens also use location-based marketing to provide shoppers with relevant deals and offers based on their proximity to certain restaurants or retailers.

6. 1-800-Flowers: Personalized shopping concierge tools
More than just a floral company, 1-800 Flowers has become a shopping portal where consumers can browse hundreds of thousands of gift ideas. In an effort to streamline the shopping experience, the company introduced an artificial intelligence system earlier this year. “Gwyn,” which stands for Gifts Where You Need Them, takes consumers’ needs into account when recommending gift ideas, providing a “personalized approach” to gifting giving. Just a few weeks ago, the company launched a second beta, which will run through the holiday season, providing information to 1-800-Flowers about how well its artificial intelligence service is working.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.


Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.