Behavioural Advertising

How a targeted ad became a personal affront

The Blogfather hits trouble when shopping for a new pair of trousers, due to an errant retargeted advert.

"Companies are obsessed with the accumulation of more data for automated processes, and with good reason, it can no doubt help swell profit. But this can allow the personal, unique user journey to be washed over, as was the case here."

I never thought shopping for slacks would make me irate, but an Englishman’s relationship with his trousers can define governments, so maybe I should not be that surprised.

I decided to make a foray back into the world of shopping online, after a few years sabbatical. A new pair of pantaloons were in order, and I had continued to get regular offer emails from a crowd I shopped with years ago, called Coggles, so I eventually took the bait and went and ordered three items; said pair of trousers, some trainers and a Paul Smith turquoise jumper. The trousers were dispatched and received quickly, but the jumper and trainers were not. After 6 days and numerous email exchanges I was informed that unfortunately Coggles had sold me something they did not actually have to sell, so they had to cancel the rest of the order, which in itself is annoying, but can happen.

Then two days later I received this email, with the subject title: Mark – is this what you were looking for?

I was not sure what to make of it initially. Had they now found a supplier to honour the order? It was quickly apparent they had not. They were asking me if I was interested in buying the very item that they had failed to provide me with! Naturally, I wondered if they were taking the phish. It seemed that they were dangling a taunting carrot; ‘you want this, don’t you? We know that you want it. But you cannot have it!’

Of course, I soon realised that they were just trying to sell me the same jumper again, based on my browsing history. Clearly there is quite a significant disconnect in their system: it did not realise that I had already ordered this item, and that Coggles had failed to complete the order due to a lack of stock.

Being at least a little savvy as to how cookies and behavioural advertising works, I quickly understood the unfortunate nature of the timing and content of the email, but the whole situation was certainly annoying.

Behavioural advertising and, moreover, the use of your personal browsing data does get quite a negative press, and with instances like this it is easy to see why. There is the well-known observation, given by agencies when talking of poor online ad spend, of the same pair of shoes following you around the internet, but I was always appreciative of recommendations when using Amazon, for example. It can work perfectly fine. Though it can feel a bit like stalking, and co-incidentally I am now followed by a pair of Paul Smith shoes as I go about my social media duties at Gasp, as you can see below. It’s a bit of a:

 "Companies are obsessed with the accumulation of more data for automated processes, and with good reason, it can no doubt help swell profit. But this can allow the personal, unique user journey to be washed over, as was the case here."

Companies are obsessed with the accumulation of more data for automated processes, and with good reason, it can no doubt help swell profit. But this can allow the personal, unique user journey to be washed over, as was the case here. To be fair, Coggles did a lot of things right. Regular yet not annoying emails that I never unsubscribed from, good discounts offered, easy to use website, so my journey did not end with the bane of the online retailer’s existence; a basket abandonment. They have also been very good about covering the cost of returning what goods I did receive.

But it is these kind of glitches that can undermine and ruin a customer’s user journey, and all the good things that a company’s marketing campaign does. Any company of substance should ensure it has in place a decent array of customer service human beings behind the scenes, as Coggles do, ready to step in and cover for an automated process that can be oblivious to the details of a situation.

So I think I am just going to go and buy some trousers from a tailor in Wokingham. Keep it old school. Suits you sir.

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