The reason online retailers' attempts at personalization so often fail is lack of attentiveness in regards to content delivery. While creating meaningful personalization is challenging, it's not impossible. It's also critical for success.
While the concept of personalization is bandied about among online retailers quite frequently, we often completely miss the mark.
Unfortunately, it seems like there is no cohesive solution that puts the user at the center of the personalization process. Yet the reason that personalization fails is due to lack of attentiveness when it comes to content delivery.
The Wrong Way to Personalize
Consider Amazon, the world’s largest online store. Of all companies, Amazon should have the necessary data to create a personalized customer experience.
Despite their all-powerful brand, Amazon still recommends products to customers that frequently do not make sense. For example, you might search for a camera battery, and then for months on end, Amazon will try to sell you standard AA batteries via targeted ads or personalized product recommendations.
Or perhaps you browse for pasta, but don’t purchase any. Months later you are still getting pasta-related email marketing.
Once, after searching Lowe’s for a Blackstone product via its model number, I then perused the product recommendations based upon that search. Lowe’s did a beautiful job of indicating which products were in nearby stores, but they also repeated several of the same exact products over and over, including the one I had initially searched.
Showing related or similar product pages is helpful, but carelessly sharing identical products is not.
Searching for Meaning
Clearly, this kind of personalization for online shoppers is not a 1:1 dialogue.
When it comes to personalization, customers want the same kind of experience that they get from their Peet’s Coffee barista, whom they see every morning. That barista knows precisely how they take their latte.
Ironically, while Amazon has far more data on customers than a barista does, it doesn’t use what it has as effectively.
Why does this happen?
Marketers and user experience designers alike know that personalization is all about the customer journey, not about the business. So we map out the journey, design accordingly, and track for conversion rates to see if it’s effective.
Yet this only gives us short term ROI. It doesn’t allow us to measure the overall long term value of a customer, just singular purchases. Long term value remains elusive, and so in the absence of meaningful, ongoing personalization, we stick something easy in for returning visitors and hope it works.
This is because personalization is very challenging. A Peet’s barista needs to remember long and complex customized orders. Similarly, all of the data eCommerce brands collect needs to be analyzed down into actual insights, not just bottom-line goals, which tend to remove the customer from the equation.
Data is the Key
If you’re still not convinced that meaningful personalization matters, consider your ideal customer. What do they all have in common? Loyalty.
Ultimately, all retailers want to maintain and grow their loyal customer base. Smart eCommerce brands cultivate loyal customers by continually improving products and continually improving the shopping experience.
Start with Basic Data Points
Fortunately, there’s a lot of great data at your fingertips. Put it to work.
If you want to develop meaningful personalized experiences, you’re going to need equally meaningful data.
Consider what data points give you the necessary insights:
Frequency of visits (first-time visitors, returning, etc.)
Website interactions (did they abandon their cart; what product pages did they visit; what did the search)
Paid advertising (social, Google Ads, retargeting, etc.)
Purchases (what did they buy; did they come via a discount or referral code; how much did they spend)
Personal data (what information did they share with you)
In addition to identifying what data points you need to track, you’ll also need to consider when you’re tracking (likely in real-time) and how you plan to track it (what tools do you need).
Until you’ve got the tools in place, it’s impossible to deliver meaningful personalizations.
Most eCommerce sites are using a combination of technologies to collect and analyze data in real-time. They can then deliver personalized to shoppers also in real-time.
Once the tools are in place and working properly, you can begin to segment your customer base.
Thanks to your data, you can begin segmenting your audience. The deeper you’re able to segment, the more personalized the experience.
There are a number of ways to break up your customers:
One easy way to personalize this segmentation is by showing “previously browsed” items to returning and repeat customers.
Or perhaps you include a “welcome” or a “welcome back” discount code, depending on if the person is a first-time visitor or returning browser who has yet to make a purchase.
This is incredibly helpful for global brands. Use location segmentations to detect where your customers are browsing, and suggest the appropriate language, currency, shipping, and sizing information.
You can also use it to ensure that you’re promoting sweaters in December in Britain and swimwear in Belize.
You can even promote in-store events if you’re able to segment by smaller regions.
Make the display as seamless as possible for customers by personalizing based upon device. For mobile customers, offer easy account setup and checkout options (i.e. Login and Pay with PayPal).
Deliver an omnichannel experience where someone browsing on their desktop can pick right back up where they left off on their tablet.
For returning logged in users, welcome them back with a “Hi Roger!” greeting, or a similarly personalized touch.
For those who abandoned their cart, perhaps a “pick up where you left off” gentle reminder that may result in conversions.
Knowing the channel through which your customers found you helps you guide their path to purchase.
If they found you via Facebook, retargeted social ads may be useful if they don’t make a purchase.
Or if they’re accessing your site via referral or sale codes, specific landing pages geared towards that campaign can start off the shopping experience in a very personal way.
These are just a sampling of ways to segment audiences. Use your data points to determine what makes the most sense for your brand.
Another way to personalize your customer experience is via behavioral targeting.
Behavioral targeting isn’t demographic targeting (i.e. age, gender, etc.) but rather targeting based upon specific actions customers take on your site.
For example, if you’re a shoe store, and your customer keeps browsing running shoes, has generally purchased high-end brands in the past, and typically browses on a mobile device, this gives you good insights to make more personalized recommendations.
Developments in artificial intelligence (AI) have allowed sites to take their behavioral targeting next-level. AI tracks and analyzes all on-site behavioral data (as well as off-site ads and emails), segments the customer accordingly, and makes unique, personal offers based upon that data.
Once you have good data practices in place, you can start personalizing your marketing.
Properly managed, email marketing remains the strongest weapon that eCommerce brands have in building customer loyalty.
When you personalize emails for customers, that impact increases almost exponentially. Here are just a few eye-opening stats that indicate the significance of personalization:
82% of brands had an increase in open rates through email personalization.
When an email is not personalized, 52% of customers go somewhere else.
Segmented personalized automated email messages average 46% higher open rates than standard emails.
Brands using email personalization generate 17% more revenue through their campaigns than the average marketer.
Again, it’s important to provide meaningful personalization. So rather than simply saying, “Don’t leave these items behind!” you could send an abandoned cart email specifically addressed to your customer that showed precisely which items they’d left in their cart, as well as some additional suggestions based upon their tastes. Better yet, if they completed their purchase, you could send a post-transaction email that thanked them for coming back for their items.
All of that time spent on data collection and identifying and implementing appropriate tools (like AI solutions) is what allows you to send 1:1 emails.
Specifically, you’ll need to:
Get as much customer information as possible. This can be accomplished when they register for an account, sign up for your email list, etc. Use these initial points of contact to collect useful data. If you allow customers to do social logins (i.e. “Login using Facebook”) you’ll be able to collect even more helpful information - location, age, gender, etc.
Track customer interactions. This can be their on-site interactions, their click-throughs on your emails, the kinds of items they purchase, etc.
Segment out your top customers and invest more time in personalizing their content.
Start by personalizing email, perfect your system, and then consider additional ways to use data to create meaningful, personalized marketing content for your customers.
Wrapping It Up
Email personalization is just the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous other ways to make your marketing personalized for customers and potential customers, from specific on-site behavioral targeting tactics to off-site social media behavioral targeting.
The data you collect digitally transfers to non-digital strategies as well, such as personalized direct mail, and even personalized in-store experiences, should you have a brick-and-mortar shop.
Ultimately, careful personalization results in customers who not only loyal, but champions of your brand.
Brand champions are the gold standard in eCommerce marketing. 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know directly.
It’s worth investing in solid data collection and meaningful personalization, because it results in brand advocates who influence people your business otherwise can’t reach.
Jags is a passionate tech vigilante. As CEO of Object Edge, he follows how technology changes the landscape for businesses across the world. He’s motivated by happy, engaged people. His motto: financial yesterday, commerce today, eagerly waiting for tomorrow every day.