Personalization is a high priority for retailers looking to meet customer expectations this year, according to the recently published Forrester report by Brendan Witcher, The Top Retail Technology Investments In 2018. According to the report: “Thirty-six percent of US online adults think retailers should do more to offer personalized experiences. Retailers heed this expectation by continuing to invest in technology that facilitates real-time, tailored experiences to each individual customer.”
But what do those tailored experiences really look like? What can you as a retailer do to deliver truly personalized experiences across channels? In this blog post, I’ll explore seven ideas you may not have considered before that can help guide you in your own personalization strategy.
1. Tie online and offline experiences together
Bringing the online and offline experiences together remains a major challenge for retailers. With the right solution, online and offline data can be brought together in one place, interpreted and acted on in real time. Once a shopper provides his email address to a cashier, for example, his in-store purchase can trigger an emailed receipt. That email can contain individualized product recommendations that are relevant to the shopper based on his past shopping experiences as well as products that pair with his in-store purchases when applicable. This email can drive him back to the site for more shopping.
For example, let’s say a shopper in a home goods store buys a duvet cover set. At checkout, the cashier asks for her email address. An email receipt can be automatically sent to her containing recommendations of sheets and pillows to pair with the duvet cover, selected by machine-learning algorithms based on her preferences uncovered from her recent behavior.
2. Make each email individually relevant at open time
The Radicati Group estimates that by 2021, the number of business and consumer emails that are sent per day will reach 319.6 billion. That’s a lot of competition for your emails. One way to stand out from this noise is to show your shoppers that you always have something relevant to say. That means that there is much more to personalize than just someone’s first name.
The key to relevancy is to ensure that the content of your emails is selected for each person considering everything you know about her from any channel. Just make sure that those emails are updated at open time to account for everything you know about the recipient’s most current interests and intent. Otherwise, your message will seem behind the times.
For example, a shopper on this women’s apparel site may have originally demonstrated a strong affinity for dresses. But later, when she returned to the site, she spent more time browsing shirts and blouses — even adding one to her shopping cart. A relevant, open-time personalized email would show recommendations for appropriate tops – in addition to dresses – to be as relevant to her current needs as possible.
3. Tailor the site navigation
It’s a little-known fact that you can tailor the navigation of your site to each individual in a subtle way. You can present navigation options that are relevant to each person’s current and past session behavior, interests and intent, purchase history, content consumption and more so they spend more time shopping and less time digging around the site.
For example, in the image below, one visitor could see “Politics,” “Sports,” and “Finance” listed in the top navigation, while another could see “International,” “Entertainment,” and “Business” in the top navigation instead — based on the content they typically consume on the site.
Navigation can extend beyond the main menu bar as well. You could promote a visitor’s preferred brands and categories within the main content area of any page on your site too, as in the example below.
4. Personalize the out-of-stock experience
All retailers are familiar with adding product recommendations to product detail pages (PDPs), but have you considered the role of out-of-stock pages in personalization? No matter how quickly you avoid featuring an out-of-stock product, visitors can still find their way to an out-of-stock page through search or other channels. In that case, it’s essential that you show the visitor something relevant so the out-of-stock page doesn’t become a dead end.
Use that space to show relevant product recommendations that incorporate a person’s preferences for particular brands or categories. You may opt to show items that are similar to the out-of-stock product to encourage shoppers to find something else they may like, or instead show complementary items that go well with the product or category being viewed. If the visitor is new to the site, you could show trending products to attempt to catch his attention. The main point is that the page should be as relevant as possible to encourage visitors to keep exploring your site.
5. Combine product and content recommendations
Many retail sites offer content such as blog posts or articles that are a valuable component of the site experience. Yet many retailers keep their product and content catalogs siloed, so they can’t recommend appropriate products to a shopper interested in a particular topic or appropriate content to a shopper browsing a specific category — not unless they manually curate the recommendations. With a good personalization solution, you should be able to understand a person’s preferences for topics and categories and use that understanding to recommend both content and products.
For example, if a visitor reads multiple articles about growing and caring for lilacs on a garden supply e-commerce site, his preferences for lilacs should be incorporated into the product recommendations he sees. In the other direction, if a travel site visitor is researching flights to London, the site should recommend articles on activities to do in London. By reading up on things to do in London, she may be more likely to book the trip.
6. Deliver relevant exit messages
Next, let’s address a typical e-commerce tactic: abandonment messages. These messages can definitely catch someone’s attention, but they tend to be more impactful when they contain relevant content or offers. For instance, rather than displaying a generic message when someone attempts to leave the site, you can display a product or two that the shopper was engaged with during her session. For cart abandonment messages, you can remind visitors not only of items they’ve left in their cart, but also of any special incentives they’re eligible for to encourage conversion. A relevant message is more likely to be viewed as helpful, rather than annoying.
For example, you could take a cart abandonment message a bit further by offering a promotion to cart abandoners. If the shopper continues to explore the site, you can carry that message throughout the site to remind shoppers of their additional purchase incentive, with a timer to create urgency.
7. Don’t neglect segment-level communication
Finally, just because we’ve been talking a lot about using algorithms to deliver unique experiences to shoppers, there are many occasions where you may want to speak to a group of shoppers in a segment. Think broadly about specific groups of shoppers you might want to target. Shoppers in a specific region, shoppers that are interested in a specific category, loyal shoppers, etc. are all good segments to consider.
One interesting group of shoppers you may consider targeting is comparison shoppers. We often find that shoppers who highlight the product name are looking to find that product somewhere else (because they are planning to copy the name from your site and paste it into a search engine). While every site is different and each site’s customer base will behave differently, we have seen that visitors that highlight a product name often intend to immediately leave the page. These shoppers also tend to have a higher conversion rate that day than the average visitor.
After you recognize a comparison shopper through behavioral tracking, you can target her with a relevant message in real time — either as soon as you detect the comparison shopping behavior or when she demonstrates intent to leave the site. The aim of the message should be to remind the shopper of the benefits of purchasing from you, rather than somewhere else.
There are so many different ways that e-commerce marketers can leverage personalization across different channels — these were just a few ideas.