marti foundation pic (3)Online retailers and ecommerce personalization vendors talk all the time about getting “it” – as in personalization – right. It’s rare that one hears a story about a retailer getting it wrong. Last week, Internet Retailer posted a story about how Urban Outfitters got into trouble with their customers by profiling them based on gender.

I give Urban Outfitters, a valued Baynote customer, credit for being willing to share this experience with all of us. The folks around Baynote are not really all that surprised. It’s just one of the reasons that we believe that one to one personalization is not really the solution. Here’s why: the shopper’s context changes frequently – perhaps on every shopping outing. Whether we acknowledge it or not, users’ experiences with websites are a type of social interaction. Websites act as virtual salespeople, and it is the salesperson who cultivates a level of trust between buyers and sellers.  It is also the salesperson who typically can assess the mood, the preferences and the buying patterns of a particular customer.

Getting it wrong via gender profiling can impact the level of trust that you have with your buyer. That feels bad to the buyer psychologically, and elicits a negative response. That’s why traditional gender profiling can lead to the problem Urban Outfitters experienced. Retailers and sales people cannot rely on the fact that a buyer is going to purchase solely within their gender category. They may be shopping for someone else, shopping for a gift or simply enjoy purchasing products across gender categories. In any event, the more you know about your customer, in the moment, the more trusting the relationship and the less likely it will be that you experience this type of personalization faux pas.