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Some of what customers want can be deduced from their activity alone, but when a store can get people to willingly tell it what they are seeking, its returns can be even better. “You can do it passively, but if you have to buy in, that gives extra value,” says Pednault.

That’s a key point. In the end, says Oxford’s Reynolds, whether companies successfully adapt to the changing face of e-commerce will depend on how well they employ new technologies to go beyond personalization to customization, which means letting their clients shape their own profiles and classifications. “Personalization is what companies do to us,” Reynolds explains. “Customization is what we want to do.”


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