Remember the good old days when you would walk into your local grocery or convenience store and the person behind the counter would know who you were and give you personal service. It seems hard to believe given the overwhelming move to impersonal big box retailing, but only a generation ago, commerce was more evenly distributed and hence more personal. In the move to mass, homogeneous retailers delivering cookie-cutter solutions of ultimate consistency, we have certainly reduced the price for the stuff we buy, but we've lost something very precious in the process.
Alas, there isn't going to be a turnaround anytime soon. While it is true that there is very much a resurgence of artisan goods with the rise of farmers and craft markets, this is, alas, an expensive option that is generally only available to those with disposable income. For everyone else, Costco, Walmart and Amazon are the name of the game.
But in this move to mass retailing, we have lost the distinct ability to personalize service. Where a hole exists, technology is always keen to move in and plug the gap, and so it is today with Bluecore, a specialized vendor offering email services for the biggest retail brands. Bluecore has over 100 customers, all with high-profile names, Staples, being a good example. The Bluecore promise is to deliver "personalized" (for no one believes that they are, in any way, truly personal) quickly, easily, precisely and, above all, cheaply.
The company is going a step further today and introducing a live segment functionality. The idea of this, as the name implies, is to segment large email lists based on behavioral data. Retailers with email lists from one to millions of customers can trigger personalization of campaign emails. Rather than manually segmenting an address list based on the needs of a particular campaign, marketers can incorporate an individual's past browse and purchase behavior into the emails they send — all of those "since you bought this product last week, you might like to know about..." emails being the direct result.
On the one hand, that Bluecore needs to do this makes me really sad, since it is yet another nail in the coffin of truly personalized service based on a one-to-one relationship between the retailer and the customer. I actually like the fact that I can go into my local post office (which is also my local vegetable store and, often times, the best place to catch up on local events) knowing that the smiling face behind the counter (here's looking at you William and Sarah Hughes-Games) will offer me a cheery hello and stop to chat about the weather, politics and the need to introduce beavers for flood protection in local rivers.
But that train, as the saying goes, has pretty much left the station. The fact is that the vast majority of commerce happens either via big box physical locations or online and, since that is the case, at least technologies like Bluecore will avoid my inbox receiving promotions for products and services far away from my areas of interest.
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