Five Ways to Impress Online Shoppers with Personalization

Tactics that really pay off

Author: Tricia Carr

April 6, 2017

Personalization can be complex or simple, but it seems to pay off. According to a May 2016 Evergage survey of marketers conducted by Researchscape, one-quarter of respondents reported a lift of between 11% and 20% thanks to personalization on their website or app. What follows is a list of five personalization tactics from retailers and the services that support them, along with examples.

No. 1: Predict the Context of Their Shopping Trip

Understanding the context of the customer should be at the core of retailers’ personalization strategy, according to Meyar Sheik, co-founder and CEO of personalization software provider Certona.

“One thing that hasn’t changed is that consumer behavior is a powerful and accurate indicator of their intent and interest, but understanding consumer behavior has gotten more complex because almost no one is a single-channel shopper.”

At eBay, there are two factors that play into predicting a customer’s context: the moment the customer is in and their progression in the customer life cycle. “If a new customer is buying a garden hose, that may warrant a different treatment than someone who is a loyal eBay shopper and is in the market for a garden hose,” said David Doctorow, eBay’s head of global growth. “The more we can do to understand where the customer is in their life cycle, the more we can personalize at an ever-increasing degree of granularity.”

Because there is a lot of noise in the ecommerce space, retailers that focus on context will likely get to a higher degree of relevancy with personalization, said Jake Swenson, vice president of product marketing at user-generated content marketing solution Bazaarvoice. “People are rewarding marketers with their attention and dollars if they can position the right thing to them when they want it.”

No. 2: Know What the Customer Purchased at the Store

“[Retailers think] there are different ways to reach consumers—the store, desktop, mobile—but consumers have never seen it that way,” said Phil Granof, CMO of shopping platform NewStore. Instead, consumers view it as a brand interacting in whatever way is most convenient for them, the customer.

Achieving the same level of personalization across channels starts with one missing link—the store. Oftentimes retailers use online purchase data, but neglect to bring store purchases into the equation. “Retailers that operate physical stores can get huge value from the data and information going through their POS systems and store loyalty programs,” Certona’s Sheik said. “Relying just on digital information for personalization is not a holistic way of looking at it and leveraging all of their assets.”

Clothing and accessories brand Bow & Drape found a way to gather in-store purchase data directly from shoppers when customizing an item in the company’s shops in department stores: Ask for their email or number to alert them when their item is ready. “We integrated technology into that experience so it’s quick and seamless, and it creates an organic way for them to give us their contact information so we can track their purchases,” said co-founder, CEO and creative director Aubrie Pagano. “If someone isn’t customizing in-store and they’re just browsing, it’s so much harder to understand [them].”

No. 3: Personalize in Real Time

eBay’s Doctorow called out the industry trend of conducting personalization tactics in real time. “For example, to help customers find what they’re looking for, we need to make them aware of items as they become available,” he said. “If prices change, we need to make them aware of that, because it may cause them to make a different buying decision.”

According to Sheik, one of the most valuable customer data points to personalize against is their behavior in real time. “Think about the store: A sales associate can observe shoppers in the store,” he said. “What aisles are they going down? What are they looking at? What do they have in their shopping cart? That gives an idea of what else to recommend to them.”

No. 4: Think Beyond Merchandising

Tailored product recommendations have become the norm for online personalization and can be very effective at driving purchases. However, shoppers will soon expect more than a list of products they might like to add to their cart.

“Retailers will continue to embrace personalization and look at different ways to personalize the experience that are not just merchandise-centric,” Shiek said. “In addition to a product focus, they’ll also look at the experiential aspect of the shopping journey.” He added, “Personalization is not a feature—it’s a strategy.”

Online lingerie shop True&Co. is going as far as using customer data it gathers through a quiz on its site to influence new product development. “Other retailers regard [personalization] as a marketing and lead generation mechanism—that’s not a double-sided handshake with your customer,” said co-founder and CEO Michelle Lam. “We use the data to not only provide a personalized shopping experience, but we also collect data in aggregate to inform our physical product development process.” She added that this is an industry trend that will grow as more retailers use data to identify trends.

No. 5: Simply Ask Shoppers What They Want

Though it may seem obvious, customers will tell you what they want—retailers just have to ask. In fact, consumers are used to being at the wheel, thanks to Amazon’s business model. “The retailer used to lead the customer journey, but after Amazon turned the retail world on its head, now it’s about putting the power in the hands of the consumer,” said Diane Kegley, CMO of omnichannel personalization platform RichRelevance. “If you do that well and with the right amount of transparency—as in, explain why they see what they see in each channel—they’ll feel more empowered, and they’ll come back for more of the experience.”

True&Co., for example, fosters a shopping environment in which for every piece of personal information shoppers share, they get something in return. “We demonstrate that it’s a conversation between us and our customers,” Lam said. “For everything they tell us, we give them a response, whether it’s a recommendation from their personal shop, a fitting tip or a tailored marketing message. We avoid spamming customers with the wrong types of bras.”

—Additional reporting by Yory Wurmser