Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Embrace ‘bespoke’ products and personalisation to get ahead amid mass e-commerce

As more transactions get moved online, personalisation can offer a competitive advantage

Customisation will be all the rage as mass-market e-commerce loses its lustre. AFP
Customisation will be all the rage as mass-market e-commerce loses its lustre. AFP

Modern e-commerce is designed for us to browse and shop from anywhere - so long as we have our smartphones. In many cases when online shopping, we don’t even need to interact with humans, except occasionally with the delivery person when they call asking for directions.

Last Ramadan, an Instagram advertisement kept popping up in my feed that promised the delivery of a customer's choice of a wide range of water brands to homes in Kuwait by watersouq.com. The trip to the grocery store could also be saved with Carrefour in the UAE delivering groceries to your doorstep. One of my friends depends completely on online shopping. She hadn’t stepped inside a mall in over a year.

All of these one-off examples of adventures in e-commerce perhaps point to mass production and digital automation. So are we witnessing less human interaction or fewer personalised services? Quite the opposite in fact as more customers are now looking for products and services that set them apart.

Two summers ago, I had a business meeting with the Berluti team in Paris. Founded by Alessandro Berluti in 1895, Berluti are known for crafting bespoke handmade shoes and tailored suits among other leather goods and apparel. Though we live in a fast-paced world, where businesses promise to deliver products in the span of hours, Berluti still offers bespoke products where every detail can be customised, and which often require months for production. Berluti’s tailors would travel to cities where their flagship stores are located, and clients get to meet the tailor for fittings and as a result have that personal relationship with them. I remember asking the team if customers are annoyed by the waiting period, and they said no, that that fact that the bespoke products would be one of a kind is worth the wait for them.

And it doesn’t end with products. More and more service providers are realising the importance of personalisation. The Four Seasons hotel brand offers a customisable sleep experience with the use of an innovative mattress system that allows customisation of the bed to each guest’s unique preference within minutes.

So, what does that mean for you as a business owner? As we go digital, we need to keep the experience personalised and add the human touch as the soul of the business. The use of AI and different software programmes can assist in keeping track of customers’ preferences and shopping history which make emails and other forms of contact easier to produce.

Make it personal, and not just about business, by adding a face and a personality - facets we can so often miss when dealing with online businesses. Introduce customers to your values and why you got into your line of work in the first place. One of the things I don’t particularly like about some Instagram-based businesses is how often you don't know who you are dealing with or who is behind a company. I am less likely to purchase a product without knowing who the brand's founder is, what is their mission or values or a bit about the company's history.

Sharing more about your company can be as simple as taking customers behind-the-scenes through your social media feed, where they can see your team in action like assembling a product or preparing it for shipment. This could take the form of a live feed where your followers on Instagram could ask you a question and get to know you and your business more. You could also send out a quarterly email or share a video updating your clients about your business, and what products or services they should be expecting. You could even throw an event where your customers could meet the team, the founders, and interact with them. I’ve personally found e-mail newsletters and Q&A social media sessions to be highly effective and can meet any budget.

As the world's migration keeps heading toward digital, offering more mass production and less human interaction, personalisation and the human touch will become more valuable, and the businesses that realise this earlier will win.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.

Updated: June 8, 2019 03:13 PM

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