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.
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.
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.
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.