Marketing: It’s Time to Ditch the Batch

By Charles Nicholls | 02 Apr 2012

Getting out of step with customers can have dire consequences, and at the heart of the problem lies batch transfers of data. Data transfer doesn’t sound exciting, but when customers are alienated, it’s something that online marketers should take notice of.

Nothing annoys a customer quite as much as being made a fool of. Yet this is exactly what happens when one of your promotions backfires by getting out of step with their actions. That sick-to-the-core-feeling that every marketer gets the moment they know of the gaffe will only grow until the problem gets fixed.

Sending promotions to customers that have already bought betrays your brand. And the customer will let you, and the world, know just how they feel. It’s just happened to me, so with the benefit of an insider’s knowledge I’ll share how it happens, how it feels to be on the receiving end , and how to prevent it.

I recently purchased a pocket sized satellite navigation device online at Halfords, a UK motor and bike retailer. Because I travel frequently, I wanted the convenience of having a slim line sat nav to guide me in my travels across the US and Europe.

Online price research found that it was cheaper  at Halfords, available online or for in-store pick up. Pleased with my money saving research, I reserved it online and collected it later the same day. A smooth demonstration of multichannel retailing?

Not quite. While I’m completely delighted with my Garmin Nuvi (awesome product by the way), Halfords spoiled the experience by sending me a Spend and Save promotion equivalent to a 10% promotion on the sat nav I had just purchased.

This is an example of how to destroy customer trust by getting out of step with a customer. Offering a promotion specific to an item that they’ve just bought is guaranteed to annoy, prompt them to call your call centre, tweet negative things about your brand, and even write a blog about the poor customer experience.

I assumed that this was a browse/abandon remarketing program gone wrong, where the trigger was me browsing the satellite navigation category without purchasing online.

I spoke to John Asberry, E-commerce Manager at Halfords, and he corrected me: “It wasn’t a sophisticated trigger campaign, but a regular promotion based on having browsed that category in the last 90 days.”

What went wrong

It’s clear that Halfords’ marketing got out of step with my purchase. This was due to the time delay between the selection of the data (browsers of sat navs that haven’t purchased) and the remarketing email going out. Unwittingly, in this gap I had purchased.

There are immediate consequences whenever data is batched together and exported from one system before being loaded into another. Inevitably time passes, and as the minutes become hours and days, the risk that you are out of step with your customers becomes ever greater.

How I felt

My emotions went from the highs at finding a good deal and delight at the new product, to a complete plunge into the depth of despair. I’m the guy that got ripped off. I got the bad deal and everyone else paid less than me. As a buyer, I felt like a jerk. My shiny new purchase, which should be giving pleasure, is now a reminder of how I was ripped off by Halfords.

When I spoke to Asberry at Halfords he apologised for any inconvenience, but I still felt fundamentally wronged.  Maybe in time my view will change, but at this point they are now on my black list, and I will go out of my way never to buy from them again. Ouch.

How to avoid these problems

Asberry told me that “While we do have trigger based campaigns, we specifically don’t put promotions in them precisely because of this problem.” Here is a partial answer: If you are working with batches of data coming from your e-commerce site, do not use them to send promotions. That will at least stop you shooting yourself in the foot most of the time, through it didn’t stop this Halfords blunder.

Secondly, don’t send multi-stage campaigns. Being out of step once is bad enough, but doing it multiple times to the same customer is unforgivable. This is like reloading after you’ve just shot yourself in the foot so that you can shoot yourself again.

Of course, neither of these are particularly attractive ways of avoiding the problem. We know that the primary reasons why customers don’t buy on a website visit are: price objections, including the cost of shipping, and because they are not  ready to buy. And not sending remarketing emails with promotions or multi-stage campaigns isn’t an answer. This is like trying to remarket with both hands tied behind your back. Restrictions which prevent you from addressing the causes of abandonment render your campaigns ineffective.

The answer: don’t use batches of data

Batches of data coming from your ecommerce site have so many inherent limitations that you need to look at alternatives. There are no advantages to batch transfers. The solution is to track customers continually, 24×7, and to automate your follow up activity where the triggering is automatically in step with what customers are doing on the site. This requires real time tracking – and specifically a real time ‘stop’ signal — to terminate multi-stage campaigns as soon as the customer purchases.

You can run multi-stage browse and abandonment campaigns with promotions safely. They work incredibly well, and can be done without alienating customers.

You just can’t do it with out of date data. It’s time to ditch the batch.

2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Marketing: It’s Time to Ditch the Batch”

  1. paul says:

    Did you phone the store to see if they would honour the difference either through price match or simply as a gesture of goodwill?

  2. Chris says:

    Working for Halfords, I can say they almost certainly would have refunded you the difference for your inconvenience had you let the store know what had happened.

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