eCommerce Personalization: 2020 Complete Guide
For a long time, eCommerce has been on the hunt for the holy grail of personalization - a consistent, cross-channel experience that adapts to customer needs and goals in real-time.
The good news for eCommerce is that these technologies have arrived.
The bad news is that the sheer amount of these technologies, which offer very different levels of personalization, means it’s unclear what a truly personalized user experience actually means and how you can achieve it.
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Benefits of Personalization in eCommerce [with stats]
Personalization is increasingly important to merchants seeking to, not only engage shoppers, but also to:
increase repeat purchases
According to “The Clear Path to Personalization” report, based on a survey of 200 retail marketing executives conducted by Forbes Insights and Arm Treasure Data:
40% of respondents said that adding personalized elements on their websites and adopting personalized marketing tactics helped boost their sales and average order value
37% of respondents credit increases in sales and customer lifetime value to personalized product or content recommendations
📌 Read this next: 2019 Report for Online Personalization in eCommerce [whitepaper]
What an eCommerce Personalization Strategy Should Look Like
The heart of personalization is goal attainment.
Importantly, these goals should be customer driven. It’s not about simply delivering what your business wants, but also about allowing every visitor to consume the experience how they prefer and helping them achieve their goals at each stage in their journey.
Think of a business you interact with online - your favorite store, your bank, a vacation booking site - and recall the variety of goals you’ve looked to accomplish there.
Your needs from a home goods store may be quite different during wedding season. You relied on your bank for a new set of information when buying a home, and your vacation preferences change depending on if you are traveling by yourself or with family.
Each visitor interacts with businesses in a multitude of ways and truly powerful personalization looks beyond who you are to what you are trying to achieve right now.
Of course, this is easier said than done. While personalization is an increasingly hot topic, most businesses are still in the early stages of understanding how to best utilize it.
When embarking on a new personalization strategy, or revamping an existing one, personalization boils down to 3 main questions:
👉 Where should personalization occur in the user experience?
Look at all the channels and touchpoints your customers interact with. Where would a personalized element help the most? Product recommendations, inspirational content, location based services, site search, customer portals - map out each micro-moment that could benefit from a more contextual experience.
👉 What information will be used?
What tools do you already have - CRM, marketing automation, A/B testing, transactional systems, - that offer a wealth of information? Take your map of where you’d like personalization to occur, decide which of your current tools could help support each micro-moment, and identify the gaps in data you need to fill to complete your vision.
👉 How will you use technology and human insight to create this personalization?
Now comes the fun part. How are you going to bring all of your channels and data together to deliver this contextual experience at scale. This is the biggest question of the 3, and one we dive into in the following eCommerce personalization examples.
📌 Read this next: The Ultimate Guide to Headless Commerce [blog]
eCommerce Personalization Examples [and Tactics]
There’s no single tactic that defines personalization.
It’s not as simple as “We ran an A/B test, and now we are personalized.” There’s a whole spectrum of technologies involved and creating your personalization roadmap means making your own unique recipe of how much, or how little, you will rely on each one.
The below table contains some of the most common tactics used, and points out how relying on a single technology brings limitations to personalization.
Each one of these technologies is on the spectrum of personalization, and the way forward is to combine each of these technologies to build a comprehensive intelligence around user intent.
Wisdom of the Crowd
The biggest challenge in personalization is gathering the right data to gain accurate insights about your shoppers.
If you’re lucky enough to have a known visitor, that perhaps purchased something or filled out a form, you can display items or content that is related.
For example, if you’re an electronics retailer and your visitor recently ordered a laptop, merchandisers may want to display some popular accessories for that computer, like a desktop porting station, an external memory drive, or a carrying case.
Thanks to intelligent search tools, machine learning can take care of this at scale and ensure these related products go to the top of any relevant search.
Search can be messy. Spelling mistakes, use of broad terms, differences in how people describe the same product can make accurate search results a struggle.
The biggest reason searches fail is that most search tools focus on individual keywords, leading to results that may vary widely from what the customer actually wants.
For example, if a shopper searches for “budget black laptop” they probably want a black, low-cost computer. But a keyword search may instead deliver a page of low-cost black accessories for a laptop.
By comparison, an intelligent, semantic search considers the words in context, just as a human sales clerk would. Combined with other information you may know about this customer, such as past purchases and recent browsing history, you can assemble a page that lists what the customer really wants and include content that helps them make a purchase decision
Intelligent search is a huge advantage when it comes to happy customers. For example, Halfords, UK’s leading retailer of motoring and cycling products, saw that 20% of their online sessions included search which drove 40% of their online sales.
📌 Read this next: Semantic Search Explained in 5 Minutes [blog]
Targeting & Profiling
Many companies have a welcome message, but relatively few companies do this on a personal level. Some companies greet all visitors with the same “welcome” pop-up, or suggest that they chat with an assistant. Great for first time visitors but, for guests who have been before and know what they want, seeing the same pop up can become annoying.
Instead, you can check the IP address against your database to determine if this is a new visitor or an established customer. Even if you know nothing else about the visitor at this point, this tells you enough to display an appropriate greeting.
In a current sales cycle with a company? You can make a custom welcome banner specifically for the company IP address that directs them to key information.
Know the top 10 college campuses that buy your clothing? Create a special mascot-themed welcoming for each of these. How granular you go is up to you, but the low hanging fruit of first vs repeat visitor is a great place to start
Like many retail sites, the biggest players have “recommendation engines” to point to similar products, but that recommendation doesn’t reflect some of the individual aspects. Nor does it provide the level of product-specific information that merchandisers can offer.
By blending content and commerce, you have an opportunity to help visitors decide which product or service may be best for them. In a way, you can be a smart friend when they really need one.
This step not only strengthens your relationship with the visitor, but supplies the kind of help that big online sites like Amazon cannot provide.
This involves several processes in real time: you take what you know about the customer’s goal and purchase history, then blend in specific content that will help visitors reach a decision about what to purchase—all while the customer is browsing.
That content may be a group of impartial product reviews, a checklist of important characteristics, a way to compare similar products, a white paper or blog, a relevant “How-to-Guide”, a lookbook, a technical spec sheet, a list of FAQs, or any other content that can help and inspire your visitor.
For this level of relevant content delivery, machine learning, solid use of metadata, and a good content management system will be crucial.
📌 Read this next: How Global Manufacturer HellermannTyton Leverages Data and Personalization to Drive Its Digital Strategy [Customer Success Story]
How to Get Started
[Step 1] Understand where and how you want to personalize for your site visitors. This decision should also be made depending on where the most impact on revenue is to be had with personalization.
[Step 2] Do your research on the available eCommerce personalization technologies and tools out there, and decide on a few to get you started.
[Step 3] Assign enough resources to the project. Decide who will oversee this project and measure the gains.
[Step 4] Define a long term personalization strategy and optimization process.
[Step 5] Start to segment and personalize your site. See which areas of your site benefit most from personalization.
[Step 6] Continue to track and monitor the results of your strategy. Optimize the process where needed.
[Step 7] Once you're happy with the strategy, begin to scale across channels.
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