It’s easy for a marketer to walk into an industry conference and hear all about how other brands are planning to personalize. But it’s a whole lot harder for that same marketer to figure out what colleagues, peers, and competitors are doing to personalize right now, and how well it’s working – or not.

That presents a challenge for marketers who are just beginning their personalization efforts, or who aren’t yet personalizing at all. Where should they start? Where should marketers already personalizing further advance strategies beyond recommendations? What experiences are their customers having with other brands, and with their direct competitors? And given those experiences, what do their customers expect?

To help marketers get a better handle on those questions, Marigold Engage by Sailthru has recently completed in-depth research into the personalization efforts and customer experiences of 100 global retail brands. We included well-known brands across the retail spectrum, such as Home Depot, ASOS, and eBay. For each of those hundred brands, we signed up for newsletters, browsed websites, added items to our carts, downloaded mobile apps, strolled into stores and more.

When we signed up for a newsletter, we didn’t just check a box. We examined the newsletter to see if it populated with the products and content we’re most likely to be interested in, based on our click-through or browsing history. We took note of the data the organization asked us for, and what data we know they are collecting, and how it was used later. We tried to alter our email preferences, asking for less-frequent missives or a different content focus. We tried to answer questions such as: Was the email delivered using delivered using personalized send time, or was it always at the bottom of our inbox? Was location considered? How about purchase history? Overall, how well did the brand personalize its communications?

We did a similar level of digging when we approached a brand onsite, via mobile, or instore. We also looked at the omnichannel experience: Did the brand share log-ins across multiple channels? Was the shopping cart shared across channels? Did brands have a way to engage with customers outside of the transactional experience? Did products we browsed on the website and clicked through in email influence product recommendations in the mobile app?

As a result of that research, we’ve been able to score each retailer on a total of 58 different factors. That allows marketers to see how far along their peers and competitors are in their personalization efforts across multiple areas of the customer experience.

We didn’t stop there. As mentioned above, it’s important to understand not only what retail brands are attempting, but how customers are responding. To better understand the success of brands’ personalization efforts, we surveyed more than 13,000 of their customers. We asked them how likely they were to make a purchase in the future, and how likely they were to recommend that brand to a friend, giving us a net promoter score for each brand.

The result is Marigold Engage by Sailthru’s first ever Retail Personalization Index, which ranks those 100 brands on their personalization efforts and their success with them. We will be detailing our findings from the Index in a series of future posts and papers. But there are a few big takeaways that all marketers should be aware of:

  • Out of a possible ‘perfect’ score of 100, no brand scored higher than 79. Not Nordstrom, not Amazon, not Sephora. Even brands that are rightly celebrated for their personalized experience could be doing much more. That should also be encouraging for brands that aren’t quite so far along: Even if you haven’t done much to personalize yet, there are plenty of pockets in which a nimble competitor—such as yourself–still has room to outperform the industry leaders.
  • Amazon is not the be-all end-all of personalization. We dove into this in depth in another post, but it’s worth pointing out that Amazon places very little emphasis on communicating with customers outside of the context of the transaction. Amazon doesn’t care too much about products, only that consumer buy with Amazon. And there are many, many strategies available to retailers that really do care about the specific products a consumer purchases. Amazon doesn’t particularly compete here because, quite honestly, it doesn’t have to. Despite Amazon’s huge success, retailers don’t necessarily need to compare themselves to Amazon to properly evaluate their own strategies. It may be much more productive to look at one’s direct competitors, or at specialists in a related category of retailing. There’s plenty of inspiration to be found there. There are lots of smaller companies that are just as tech-centric and just as customer-centric as Amazon, but in a very different way.
  • Mobile is still a struggle. Despite all the recent emphasis on the value of the mobile customer, brands still struggle to make good use of the mobile opportunity. Most are managing to share preferences and shopping carts across platforms, which is encouraging. But in general, they’re not using customers’ behaviors on mobile to inform what they see on other channels, and vice-versa. One of the biggest challenges is to use mobile to enhance the in-store experience in way that feels personal. Some of the biggest retailers are using beacons, but this offers limited reach given the requirements on the consumer side. Brands are at the very early stages of figuring out how to use mobile to get customers into their stores; some, like Home Depot and Lowe’s are making things interesting, but there’s much to be gained in this area by most.

Learn more about Marigold Engage by Sailthru’s Personalization Index here including viewing the top-ranked brands, getting your own experience score, and accessing resources to help define your own personalization roadmap.