The last few years has seen remarkable changes in the way in which businesses operate on the Internet. Over the last ten years, the Internet has been the springboard for many businesses that decided to operate online – when selling a product or a service. This has been due to changes in technology, increasing globalisation and the growth of the ‘information age’ sector. All of these elements together have contributed to the growth of e-commerce.
One of the key concepts that have been the forefront of the Internet over the last few years has been the increasing use of customisation and personalisation of websites. Consumers have become more intelligent over the years and are constantly demanding products or services suited to their needs. Therefore, it should be pointed out as to how their needs can be met through the use of customisation and personalisation. It should also be asked how the Internet and ‘related technologies’ have contributed to the growth of customisation and personalisation and whether this growth is likely to continue in the future.
The benefits of both concepts to consumers and organisations will be analysed and critically evaluated and highlighted. Therefore, it should be asked how the Internet and ‘related technologies’ have ‘enabled’ customisation and personalisation and to what extent does this bring ‘benefits’ to consumers and organisations; and whether these benefits might have drawbacks, if not careful. The Internet has grown over the last ten years. It has significantly changed the way in which firms operate. The growth of the Internet has been highlighted by the fact that more and more firms are looking at ways in which to operate online.
For example, Amazon and Ebay are already one of the biggest shopping online portals on the Internet. The Internet has also accelerated the way in which businesses conduct their business. The role of the Internet in maintaining a close relationship with customers has been the main focus of organisations. The Internet offers the availability of doing business online. For example, the shopping portal CD-wow (http://www.cd-wow.com) lets consumers purchase a range of goods from music, DVDS or games. Once a user purchases a particular item the website automatically offers similar products to the consumer next time he or she shops online. In recent years a new concept has emerged which many organisations have taken into consideration – customisation/personalisation.
Personalisation is defined as ‘an ill-defined placeholder for a grab of technologies that claim to deliver a more individualised experience to online customers and prospects’ (Locke, 1999). It is also defined as a ‘special form of product differentiation’ (Hanson, 2000). According to the latter definition personalisation changes a product or service suited to a particular type of individual. For example, designing a product or a service, which would match the interests and needs of that particular person.
However, according to Curran (partner of Diamond Technology Partners Inc) personalisation is ‘not mainstream’ and is more ‘complicated and less utilised’ (Cirillo, 2000). Nevertheless, definitions of personalisation generally agree on the principle that personalisation is about customers wanting a product or service that matches their needs. Moreover it is increasingly likely that personalisation requires information from the customers in order to fulfil them customer needs and wants. For example, Amazon.com suggests similar products once the user makes a purchase.
Customisation (also known as mass customisation) is defined ‘as the creation of tailored marketing messages or products for individual customers or groups of customers typically using technology….’ (Chaffey, et al (2003:234). For example, AOL allows all registered users to customise their online experience. When a user logs on to his/her AOL account customisation options are available. For example, weather reports can be changed according to the person’s preference, stock shares can be viewed, and users can also customise their music styles suited to their taste (www.aol.co.uk, see appendix 1). This is an example of a customised website which tries to give the user a unique experience. However, the term customisation has different definitions. Schrage (1999) states that lots of different authors have different definitions of customisation. For example, some authors think that it is ‘the ability to re-prioritise information’ and for another it means the system would ‘learn preferences and reconfigure accordingly’.