In retail, personalization has become a ubiquitous — and, at times, confusing — term.

In the last few years, personalization approaches have gone beyond customized email marketing to tailor e-commerce to user preference, helped by the increase in ways retailers are capturing consumer data.

However, personalization still means different things to different companies. A recent Sailthru report found that more than 60 percent of retailers view personalization as a business strategy. But they struggle to figure out how to use the tactic in practice. Eighty percent of the more than 140 businesses surveyed said that personalization has grown increasingly complex in the last three years.


Cassie Lancellotti-Young, evp of customer success at Sailthru, said retailers have been slow to keep up with personalization because of their emphasis on quarterly sales. For brands trying to meet sales goals,  pushing products over email is low-risk. Sticking to what they know can mean missing out on long-term gains that come with customizing content for shoppers.

There’s a lot of pressure on earnings,” she said. “With private companies, businesses are eager to hit their numbers, and they want to hit them today. The reason they’re skittish on long-term strategies is that it takes longer to see results.”

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Lancellotti-Young said while an increasing number of fashion brands are hiring data analysts to cull through customer touch points, many still lag. In some cases, they aren’t even collecting the data necessary for personalization.


There’s also internal disagreement about how to pursue personalization, said Lancellotti-Young. Only 16 percent of respondents said it’s important to involve C-suite level executives in personalization efforts, which points to a lack of clarify around how such efforts are funded and prioritized, she said. “You cannot look at it as just tactics to boost conversions. It needs to be an overarching business strategy, and that starts at the C-level.”

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Another difficulty for retailers is how to personalize the way they communicate with shoppers across a growing number of platforms. Many still cling to the ease of email personalization, but a much smaller portion are doing personalization at the mobile shopping or in-store level. Despite this, 56 percent of respondents say it’s very important or extremely important to personalize on two or more digital channels.

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All charts courtesy of Sailthru