Practical Ecommerce

Personalizing the Customer Experience

I recently shopped for a new wallet in several online stores. Later that day, I saw ads for one of the same wallets on The New York Times’ website and Facebook from eBags.com. Since I had shopped at eBags.com, I knew that it was not a coincidence. It was a remarketing ad. In this case, it was a highly personalized ad featuring one of the wallets I looked at.

Did you know that Google personalizes your search experience based on past search history? You can turn that off in Google if you choose, but it’s there by default as a way to match your search with, presumably, your interests.

The reality is that businesses of all types are using technology to personalize their customer experiences. Top retailers use platforms like Oracle Endeca to personalize customers’ experiences based on where they came from, what they have been shopping for, past sales history, what’s in their cart, and so forth. Retailers can even use that information to choose which products are in a specific promotion based on margins and profitability. As a result, they have a higher conversion rate, fewer bounces, and in many cases, a more satisfied customer.

You may think personalization is a violation, or an invasion of privacy. In some cases, it may be. In others, it creates a better experience for online shoppers.

Let’s look at things you can do, even if you are a smaller ecommerce operation, to help personalize your customer experience in a positive way.

What is Personalization?

Personalization simply means presenting information to a consumer that acknowledges whom he is and what his intentions are — to make his interaction more meaningful.

Many online stores have a history of what you have purchased, and even your visits. They may know where you live, if you prefer expensive or low priced items, and so forth. By using that information to deliver targeted content and promotions, they are personalizing your experience and making it a more positive one.

Merchants can also personalize emails, such as using a first name in a salutation on an email. “Dear Dale” is much better than “Dear Customer.” Offering various email subscription levels is a good way to personalize your newsletters. Customers get to choose things that interest them, and it’s less likely they will view that information as spam.

I actually did buy a wallet from eBags.com. The confirmation email I received from eBags thanked me for my purchase and showed a picture of my new wallet. The email also presented some related items for my consideration. Many customers will see that as useful.

eBags personalizes its emails with customer names and exclusive offers.

eBags personalizes its emails with customer names and exclusive offers.

Another example of personalization is guided search and navigation. If you shop at Target.com and search “laptop” in the search box, you will see a list of suggested related terms. Most people find those to be helpful. Let’s say you simply chose the laptops category. You will now be able refine your search by brand, price, deals, color, ratings, and other categories.

Each time you filter by one of those criteria, your list of choices will be reduced. If you want to buy a laptop from Acer between $500 and $799 that has free shipping, you will quickly find there are two choices from among the 720 you started with. Your search and navigation was personalized to meet your needs, not what a user-interface designer thought would be the way you should browse through the products.

Target uses a guided search to help personalize its site.

Target uses a guided search to help personalize its site.

Where You Should Personalize

Personalize anywhere you can. Even if you can’t invest in an ecommerce platform or development project to deliver personalized shopping, you can personalize other events.

  • Opt-in emails. Segment your lists based on products, shopping preferences, or frequency.
  • Transaction emails. Offer complementary products along with a promotional coupon in your confirmation emails.
  • On your website. Offer different navigation options, a good site search engine, landing pages for promotions, or saved shopping carts for shoppers.
  • Social media. Use Twitter to engage in personal dialogues with your customers. Use hashtags for product discussions. Create Pinterest boards that are topical
  • Loyalty programs. Offer rewards to personalize the customer experience and reward them to share more with you.
  • Packaging. Include printed promotions for related products when you ship an order.
  • On phone and chat. If you talk or chat with a customer, offer her upsells and related items. Be sure to pull up the customer’s history while you are talking to her and personalize the experience in some way.
  • Ad networks If you do remarketing through Google or other ad networks, tie in specific products or categories whenever you can to increase your visibility.
  • Landing pages. Create landing pages for promotions, for repeat customers when they log in, or any other time you can create a personalized experience
  • Wish lists. Provide a method for customers to quickly return to the things they are interested in.
  • All devices. If you can see your shopping list on a website, be sure you can get to it on your smartphone.

Summary

Some view personalization as an invasion of privacy. But they can always use incognito browsers, erase cookies, and opt out of tracking if they prefer. Making shopping easier is good for everyone. Done properly, personalization will enhance an experience, not hurt it.

But don’t abuse personalization. Keeping the right balance between privacy and personalization is key.

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Dale Traxler
Dale Traxler
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Comments ( 11 )

  1. Scott_Heitland January 24, 2013 Reply

    Nice article, Dale. And I agree with you that the trick is knowing how and when to personalize and when personalization can go to far and backfire.

  2. Elizabeth Ball January 26, 2013 Reply

    Thanks Dale, this gives me plenty of ideas for personalising the shopping experience for customers.

  3. Shep Hyken January 27, 2013 Reply

    Love how the concept of personalization is helping the retail experience. Yes, there are those concerned about privacy, and the way around it is to make it an option when the customer enters into the site. Along with the option is a simple disclaimer – VERY SIMPLE – that explains in just a sentence or two how the information will be used. It may take a while for people to feel comfortable and for this to be mainstream, which I believe will happen in the near future.

  4. Razoyo.com January 28, 2013 Reply

    Good read, Dale! Adding a "Wish List" is key. Razoyo.com

  5. Drew Coffin January 28, 2013 Reply

    One of my friends recently purchased a college textbook online and the seller included a Red Bull and a note that said something like "college is too short to spend all your time studying," or something along those lines. I thought it was a great bit of personalization.

  6. Marv Conn January 29, 2013 Reply

    I’m not sure that seeing an ad on a third party site for something I was looking for at a different 3rd party site isn’t a violation of my privacy. I prefer one site not know what I’m doing on a different site!

    I do like personalization, such as Amazon.com setting items on my home page that are like what I’ve shopped for and Netflix on Roku showing me movies like movies I’ve watched in the past.

    However, often Amazon shows me things that are like my past purchases. I purchased a fancy $300 saw and then spent weeks seeing fancy saws on my home page at Amazon. Seems unlikely that I have a fancy saw fetish, so why show me something that was clearly a once in a lifetime purchase? They should be a little smarter than that.

  7. georgia January 29, 2013 Reply

    Great article, Dale. I like the bullet points, they give good direction on what we can do. Very helpful.

  8. Shiran January 31, 2013 Reply

    Great info, The traffic and conversions from our email marketing campaign increased substantially since we started personalizing them.
    I love the fact you actually gave other actionable items that almost any e-commerce store can act on.

    Thanks

  9. Dale Traxler February 7, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone. I concur that we (as in marketers) need to get better at personalization. In respons to Marv’s comment, I think Amazon can be among the worst offenders when they send stale promos for things I bought months or years ago. Especially when they are the same thing I bought then. We all need to learn best practices to pitch more "related" or complementary items.

  10. Lisa August 16, 2014 Reply

    I couldn’t agree more. These days, customers want attention, they want personalized service: they want to feel like someone cares about their individual experience. Meeting customer concerns with prompt, individualized, and empathetic response is absolutely crucial, both for maintaining a positive online reputation and for building customer loyalty.
    I recently created a post on this topic that looks at two major coffee chains as a case study:
    http://blog.ownerlistens.com/2014/07/customer-service-case-study-personalized-communication-and-the-coffee-wars.html

  11. Ewan August 22, 2014 Reply

    Nice article. And what do you think about A/B testing for e-commerce sites? It’s a lot of hassle, but doesn’t it improve customer experience in the end? Any good software to recommend?

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