eCommerce personalization empowers you to give every one of your customers a “just for them” experience with your webstore. Personalization can be hugely beneficial for the merchant, if it’s done well.
For example, one survey showed that personalized ads (one way to do it) had a 10x higher clickthrough than those that were not personalized. Imagine the improvements you could make throughout your eCommerce store!
But, it’s harder than it sounds to execute. Personalization requires a systematic approach, and in this blog post, we’ll dive into what you need to be doing.
The Holy Grail of eCommerce
In many ways personalization is the Holy Grail of eCommerce–often pursued, but rarely found. (Hey, Indiana Jones found it once. That qualifies as “rare” instead of “never”.) Put simply, personalization is just really hard to do, online.#Personalization is the Holy Grail of #eCommerce. It's just really hard to personalize online. Click To Tweet
Think about when you walk into a really good retail store–something like Nordstrom. A salesperson takes you on the exact kind of journey you’re looking for.
Just in and out to grab a quick gift? They bring you right to some excellent gift items.
Shopping for a completely new wardrobe? They will be your concierge, helping you keep track of exactly what pieces you need, finding ones that fit together, and keeping you on track.
It’s a completely personalized experience. Yes, the store has a brand, a store layout, and a preselected product assortment, all of which are shared by every customer. But, your experience was only yours, because the salesperson tailored it to your needs.
Now we live in an eCommerce world. It certainly hasn’t completely replaced brick & mortar retail, and it likely never will. But, it’s undeniable that eCommerce is now a huge part of retail. It begs the question:
How do you replicate that personalized experience in an online store?
This is the challenge that retailers attempt to solve: eCommerce personalization.
How do you show webstore visitors just the right product and just the right time?
How do you make sure they can navigate your site the way that works best for them?
How can you tailor imagery, marketing copy, and other subtle aspects of your site to just their taste?
It’s no easy chore. You don’t have the luxury of an experience salesperson’s intuition. You can’t read the customer’s facial expressions through the screen (not yet, anyway).
Managing an eCommerce site is already challenging enough! How do you find time to even think about personalization, when you’ve got product catalogs to manage, orders to fulfill, and customer support to provide?
You can’t! At least not without starting on the right foundation.
Product Data & Merchandising
The first step to eCommerce personalization is to start with proper product data management and well-developed, systematic merchandising strategy. These are the core to any personalization effort.
Product Data Management
Ultimately, your goal as a retailer is to sell more product. Your eCommerce site will include content that isn’t product content, but all of it is still there to help you sell more.
Personalization online can’t be done by a human. That’s not how the Internet works. You have to rely on computer systems to collect data about site visitors and respond accordingly. It’s up to the retailer to tell the computer what different data points mean.
The most critical set of data for eCommerce personalization is your product data. And, without proper data management practices, you will never be able to use your product data to execute an effective eCommerce personalization strategy.
Product data management is a discipline all its own, but at the highest level, it includes:
- Ensuring all products are described in similar ways, using like attribute structures, consistent language, and universal vocabulary.
- Centralizing product data to a single master system to avoid ambiguousness and disorganization.
- Executing processes to make sure product data is accurate and timely.
- Structuring product data in multi-faceted ways so different “views” of the data can support different outcomes.
And, this is just scratching the surface. Product data management (sometimes called master data management) can be a full-time job, but one that you cannot overlook when pursuing eCommerce personalization.
The other half to effective eCommerce personalization is executing a solid merchandising strategy.
This is the softer side of personalization. It’s about understanding your customers and striving to meet their needs. It’s about sourcing and marketing products that are right for them.
And, you cannot personalize the eCommerce experience without really understanding your customer.
In order to produce effective eCommerce personalization, you must think about some things up front:
- Who are the people to whom you are selling?
- What do they want and how do they shop for it?
- Where are they going to buy and how?
The answers to these questions produce three critical deliverables: definition of your customer personas, your customer journey, and your channel strategy.
Customer personas are generalized archetypes of segments of your customers. It’s too difficult to personalize every interaction to a single person, but you can take a big step forward by personalizing to personas.
As you mature with personalization and relate merchandising practices, you personas will get more granular, more detailed, and more plentiful. But, start small, if this is a new concept for you.
Just knowing who your customers are (personas) isn’t enough. You also need to think about their customer journey from initial awareness, all the way through purchase.
Different personas will have different customer journeys for different reasons. Its important to think about the customers’ needs at each stage of the journey, so you can be there to pull them down your path to purchase.
You can’t sell to someone on Amazon if they don’t shop on Amazon. With knowledge of who your customer is and how they proceed to purchase, you can define an intelligent strategy for what products you should sell through which channels.
This is critical, because it helps you to weed out a lot of the wrong products before you even begin to personalize.
Creating Personalized Experiences
With the right foundation in place you can start to think about how you want to personalize the eCommerce experience for your customers.
Really, your only limitation is that of the technologies you use, and there are a lot of different ones out there. Some are complex and expensive, others are simple and affordable. Your budget and specific business goals will determine what is best for you.
But, here are a few ways you could think about applying eCommerce personalization.
You knew I was going to go here!
The most common form of eCommerce personalization you see is product recommendations. Do you shop on Amazon? Then you know what I mean…it’s the “People Also Bought” section of the page.
The goal with product recommendations is to cross-sell or up-sell. It’s to get the customer to leave with more than they intended to buy. But, proceed with caution, because without the right data and the right systems, the recommendations get weird.
Even Amazon struggles with this from time to time. Here’s an example that many can relate to…
I play guitar, and often purchase my guitar strings on Amazon–Ernie Ball Slinky .11’s if you’re curious. And, when I’m looking at the “People Also Bought” section, I see some strange recommendations.
Some of the recommendations are reasonable. Guitar picks. A capo. Guitar cleaner. But, they also recommend different strings. Sometimes they are a different brand. Sometimes they are a different size.
Why would I need that?
This is an example of oversimplified data making incorrect generalizations. My interest in Ernie Ball strings does not drive simultaneous interest in Fender strings. But, Amazon hasn’t used enough contextual data to improve the recommendation.
The lesson here is to think about product recommendations in the context of the customer journey. Don’t just assume static product associations.Think about product recommendations in the context of your customer's journey. #ecommerce Click To Tweet
Imagery is a big part of eCommerce, and it’s not just about product images. Images used to decorate your site allow you to build the personality of your brand–to express the kinds of emotions you want your customer to feel.
When you are able to collect information about your customer (specifically if they’ve given to you during past orders), you have the opportunity to personalize the imagery the customer sees.
Knowing the sex of your customer allows you to show pictures of women or men using your products, depending on which sex you are trying to appeal to.
Knowing the age of your customer allows you to show images that resonate differently with different generations. (Do you think your grandpa would respond well to a picture of someone using a smart watch, for instance?)
Personalizing images requires you to really think about the art you use with your brand. It also requires you to create/purchase more. But, it’s an excellent way to personalize the eCommerce experience for your customers.
You can personalize copy and even product descriptions just like you would your eCommerce site’s imagery.
This basically works the same way as images, only instead of swapping out pictures, you are swapping out words. Different language will resonate with different segments of people.
Again, this makes more work for the merchandiser, but positive results will make the work worth it.
Personalizing based on location is another powerful strategy for retailers who have to scale to require it.
Home improvement stores, like Lowe’s, are awesome at this. The product recommendations they make and the how-to articles they present are very targeted by your location.
For example, in March they would probably start showing landscaping equipment, grass seed, and deck building kits to people in Ohio. But, in Alaska, it’s still snowy. They are probably getting “end of season” sales on snowblowers and space heaters. But, in Arizona, where it’s aways ungodly hot and no one has grass, the product recommendations are different.
Location can add a lot of context about your customer. If you are a retail brand that potentially spans multiple locations, think about you can serve each one differently.
Before You Dive In
You can overdo this. So, before you dive into eCommerce personalization head first, consider the following:
- Depending on the technology you use personalization can cause performance degradation on your site. Don’t sacrifice usability in the name of personalization.
- Don’t overwhelm the customer. Too much dynamic content can be jarring or confusing. The trick is to not make it feel like personalization.
- Don’t personalize structural elements of your site. Navigation, page structure, and the checkout flow should remain universal. Otherwise you site becomes unusable.
As with any new strategy, start small. Grow into more granular, complex personalization, learning along the way. You don’t need to be go crazy to start seeing benefit.
What To Do Next
If you were paying attention, you learned that you can’t execute eCommerce personalization without first managing your product data and executing effective merchandising.