What my grandma’s butcher could have taught Netflix

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I overheard a radio piece the other day about Netflix’s world-leading levels of personalisation – Netflix was credited with being the pinnacle of driving your business through data and smart AI algorithms. The first company to personalise each customer’s experience.

I beg to differ.

I think my Grandma’s butcher – other butchers were and are available – can lay claim to earlier usage of data to personalise each customers’ shopping experience.

And, he did it without a card index system let alone artificial intelligence and algorithms.

Take the Netflix statement that it is “Our goal is to help members discover great content that they will enjoy.”

My Grandma’s butcher – let’s call him Bert – was a master of this. Like Netflix he knew the names of all his customers (but in Bert’s case by heart not by database) and his goal was also to help them find great meat to enjoy. He knew who liked liver and who hated it; whose husband (it was a different time!) liked a steak and kidney pie and who could be persuaded into a piece of brisket on pay day. Bert would never have made the mistake that Aviva recently made when it addressed thousands of its customers as Michael

Of course, Netflix never runs out of content to show (although I suspect my teenager has almost watched Netflix dry …) and Bert sometimes did, especially in wartime and in the post war years, but he could always rustle up an alternative. Somewhat akin to Netflix allowing “each member to have a different view of our content that adapts to their interests and can help expand their interests over time.”

“Deep personalisation” may have sounded like a prisonable offence in Bert’s days, but boy was he guilty of it – with a little extra on the scales for someone he knew was having a rough time and a tip off about when their favourite was due in the shop.

According to Netflix “Personalization starts on the homepage but also extends out across the product and beyond, such as deciding what messages to send our members to keep them informed and engaged. We want our members to spend less time looking for something to watch and more time watching something they truly enjoy: an old favourite to rewatch or a new pick from our growing portfolio of original content.”

According to Bert, personalisation began when the over the door bell tinkled and he appeared from the back shop. He knew the recently married women who needed more instruction on cooking times and those on a budget who perhaps needed to substitute a cheaper cut for a while.

And Bert knew the importance of customer loyalty and how to grow it. And, like Netflix, you didn’t need to buy any fancy, new, expensive equipment to maximise your use of Bert’s products.  

Interestingly, Netflix doesn’t use age or gender in its recommendation system, believing that user behaviour is a far more meaningful metric.

Bert could have told them that a long time ago.

He could also have taught Amazon a thing or two about the ‘frequently bought together’ bundles – ‘a mealie pudding to go with that mince, Mrs Gordon?’ And about buying a bit on the side - ‘Will you be wanting a bone for the dog, Mrs Forbes?’

Bert’s not consigned to history though – he lives on in some excellent local butchers like Chattan Quality Meats in Aberdeen and Sheridans in Ballater - and many more.

There’s one remaining lesson which Bert could have taught the data driven, AI focussed, global giants – and that’s the power of flirting and double entendre!

'Do you want your rump tenderised, Mrs Smith?'

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