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Customisation versus Personalisation: a behavioural study that questions some eMarketing foundations

April 25, 2001
A study of more than 300 American online consumers, conducted by Paul F.Hunes and Ajit Kambil, who are both associate partners of Accenture, just compared two types of services offered to Internet users: customisation and personalisation of Web sites.

To make things a bit clearer, customization corresponds to services such as My Yahoo!, that allow users to "filter" a site content so that it corresponds to its own tastes.

The Internet user will be able to display only the things he is interesting in on the home page, or else he will be able to modify the colours that are displayed on the site…

As for personalisation, it uses artificial intelligence. In this case, the customer's profile is registered on the site's database and updated regularly according to his visits, which will automatically generate personalised Web pages that fit his profile.

In this case, the user do not have anything specific to do, the choices are made by the personalisation system itself.

The book and music recommendation system by Amazon.com is the perfect illustration of a successful personalisation.

What appears interesting in this study is that it tried to confront these two approaches to the consumers' real needs.

Among the results displayed on this study, 93% of respondents indicated that they have already customized at least one site and 25% even said that they customized more than 4 Web sites to their own tastes.


On the other hand, 42% of respondents indicated they did not get any benefit from personalised Web sites.

In order to find out how respondents reacted to these two Internet approaches, the authors of the study also confronted these consumers with two different types of online grocers, one that allows customisation when the other makes automatic personalisation.

In this case, only 6% of respondents declared they preferred the personalised site… Sport sites and investment sites got the same results.

Some elements might help us better understand such attitude.

First of all, Web sites personalisation often requires that the user first provides the site with some personal information and raises the usual problem of privacy. Users are often reluctant to communicate personal information, as they do not really see the advantages they will gain from this, as this study tends to demonstrate.

What's more, personalisation software still contains bugs and users sometimes get advice that are likely to make us smile when words and situations are taken out of context.
The upshot of this study is that users wish to be in control of the filter; they do not want a machine to personalise their profile in an automatic way.

Many Web sites opted for personalisation capabilities instead of giving consumers the choice to customize their interface as they thought customers would not be patient enough to use the customisation features displayed on the site.

This study proves that when Internet users find an interest in something, they are willing to invest some of their time to "learn" a Web site and put it to good use.

The best solution might not be quite as black-and-white as the study seems to suggest and the best thing to do would be to combine the two approaches.

All this depends on Web sites themselves, but also on the business model they chose to adopt and… of course on customers, last link people tend to forget a bit too quickly on the Internet.

Source : Harvard Business Review


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