My WhatsApp feed now contains nearly as many messages from strangers as from friends. And no, these randoms sending me smiling emojis are not potential suitors. They are brand representatives and shop staff addressing my enquiries about items of clothing. The retail industry, much like every other consumer sector, is getting personal, perhaps too personal. Brands want to be seen as our friends. This follows the industry’s general trajectory: customisation, of service and products, we’re told is the future.
While I’m not opposed to the idea – I would far rather deal with a person than fill out an anonymous enquiry form – it’s a tricky thing to get right. First, it’s a little creepy receiving a WhatsApp message (complete with profile pic) from a total stranger. The bigger issue though is logistics. My last three encounters ended in zero purchases: I was passed onto several different people; told, after a lengthy conversation, to ring the shop to get an answer; or informed that the item was now sold out (it wasn’t when our conversation had started).
These were not big shops so news that brands including Burberry and Tamara Mellon are planning to roll out sizeable “conversational commerce” platforms makes me anxious. Is the personalised-communication model scalable? Customisation is a good thing – but only as long as it’s efficient.