Ecommerce personalization: How—and why—to customize your website for your customers + 15 real brand examples
There’s nothing new about on-site personalization in ecommerce.
In fact, 33% of marketers in the US dedicate 50% or more of their budget to it, according to Statista. Meanwhile, 74% of ecommerce sites in the US and UK are already using on-site personalization tactics as part of their conversion rate optimization strategy.
And it’s no wonder. OctaneAI found that:
- Over 70% of consumers feel frustrated with impersonal shopping experiences.
- Over 80% of consumers are willing to share data to create a more personalized experience.
- Nearly 65% of consumers are OK with businesses saving their purchase history and preferences in order to receive personalized experiences.
- 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that gives them personalized experiences.
If you’re curious about the best ways to do it, read on.
What is ecommerce personalization?
Ecommerce personalization—or website personalization for ecommerce brands—is when you create different on-site experiences for different shoppers in order to make those experiences more relevant and targeted to the individual’s specific interests and needs.
It’s one thing that can separate an average online shopping experience from an outstanding one.
“Today’s consumer expects personalization,” says Alex Klein, VP of consumer engagement at 85SIXTY. “They expect you to know who they are and what they like or want. If you are not delivering on this, you will be left behind.”
“It’s not a question of when or why to personalize,” Klein adds. “It’s a critical component to a successful program.”
Why bother with ecommerce personalization?
Put simply, website personalization leads to a better customer experience. Shoppers have on-site journeys that feel relevant to them and their specific needs, which helps them find the products they want more quickly.
Once shoppers have this more pleasant, productive on-site experience, they tend to be more likely to share zero-party data like their email addresses and phone numbers.
They’re also more likely to make a purchase.
“By adding personalization to your marketing strategy, you make your customers feel like you’re speaking to them directly,” Gracie Cooper, digital marketing strategist at Groove Commerce.
Mitch McKay, manager of global marketing partnerships at BigCommerce, puts the benefits of ecommerce personalization this way: “We’re an influencer culture. Trends change really, really quickly because of that. I want that fresh jacket I saw on TikTok yesterday, but a month from now, I probably have a different trend in mind. Relevance is a massive trend in ecommerce right now.”
Because relevance is so key, McKay says, “zero- and first-party data are absolute gifts. They’re so impactful. Being hyper-focused on relevancy gives customers more of what they want in the moment. And that leads to better business for brands.”
Why personalization is the right move for 2023
“The experience customers want right now,” he says, “is a hyper-focused, high-intent, relevant, on-site search experience.”
Jay Narula is head of business development in North America at Nosto, a personalization platform that empowers brands to create ecommerce experiences that delight shoppers and drive results. In 2023, he says, many brands are tightening their budgets in response to the uncertain economy—making personalization more and more important.
Narula believes both paid ads and paid social will continue to occupy solid places in the business ecosystem for driving traffic. But those channels are expensive and can’t solve growth marketers’ goals through purely more traffic. And, of course, you don’t have as much control as you do in the channels you own.
“Marketers spend an average of $92 to get a paid traffic visitor to a brand’s website, but only $1 to convert them once they’re there,” Narula shares. The second we shift some of that investment, it pays off 10 and 20 fold.”
While website personalization used to be “a crown jewel—something nice to have—now it’s vital,” he says. “It used to be a vitamin. Now it’s a painkiller.”
Thanks to the pandemic, in the last 4 years, consumers are spending less time on brand websites. “People have much shorter attention spans,” Narula points out. ”If they’re on your site, you’ve got to speak directly to them and their needs if you want to build the relationship.”
“Nurturing and managing the customer relationships you’re building through website personalization means converting them vs. not,” Narula says. “Often 10x, 30x, 80x for brands that really take the time to address it.”
Sounds good, right? So, where do you begin
Start small and with what you’ve got. The first thing you’ll need is data.
Collect data that drives rich, personalized experiences
You can collect several types of data from customers to help build personalized website experiences.
The 6 types of customer data
- Zero-party data is information someone gives to you proactively, like their email address, phone number, or birthday.
- First-party data is information a brand observes about a visitor on their owned properties, like links someone clicked on from an email, or an affinity for a certain line of products, size or color they browsed on your website.
According to Adobe, the types of data that will help you build the most robust, unified customer profile are:
- Demographic data is who your customers are—for example gender, age, income, etc.
- Psychographic data gives you insight into the “why” behind customer preferences, meaning their likes, dislikes, and values. This type of data helps you personalize your website so that it speaks more directly to your customer, including using the best colors, language, and tone for particular audiences.
- Behavioral/interaction data is historical data that tells you what customers do. It shows you:
- How customers interact with your brand touchpoints
- Which content they consume
- How they got there (from where they’re consuming it)
- Contextual data tells you how, where, and when your customers are interacting with you. This type of data recognizes:
- The devices they’re using
- The platforms and sites they’re coming from
- Where they are geographically
- Their timeframe (month, year, and time of day)
OK, but what can you actually do with all that data?
Narula says he sees the most success with real-time behavioral data, as it gives Nosto’s team the best insight into the reasons why a visitor is on the site. For merchants with lots of product pages, it’s especially helpful to see how long people stay on a given page. This type of data helps a brand distinguish between, say, a serious backpacker and someone who just wants to wear a fleece vest on a weekend.
Cookie-based data, Narula says, is helpful in that it tells a brand where a visitor fits in the lifecycle. Is the visitor already a VIP? Are they brand new to the site? Knowing the difference can help the brand personalize the experience to meet the visitor where they are.
Contextual data is also very relevant, Narula adds.
Factors such as:
- the weather the visitor is experiencing
- the state they’re in
- the time of day
- the device they’re on
- where they’re coming from—like Facebook, Google, or TikTok
are all pieces of valuable information that you can create a powerful experience by tailoring your messaging around.
Finally, Narula advocates for session-based data. A trigger or on-the-spot quiz can help a brand personalize an approach to, say, a woman in her first trimester vs. her third.
McKay shares the enthusiasm for zero-party data (as opposed to third-party data) because of the consent involved in the process. “I’m willingly giving that [zero-party data] to a brand,” he says. That makes the relationship more enthusiastic, with the potential to be longer-lasting.
Once you’ve decided what kinds of data you’ll collect, you need to learn how to use it within your customer experience platform (like Klaviyo) to launch personalized site experiences and measure results.
Types of website personalization
Technically, there are two main ways to personalize your on-site experience for shoppers:
1:1 ecommerce personalization
When you take Function of Beauty’s hair care quiz, the site immediately personalizes, adding your name into the header. Instead of Function of Beauty, it becomes Function of Alex (that’s me!).
This is an example of 1:1 personalization.
1:few ecommerce personalization
Brands more commonly use 1:few personalization, which targets groups or segments of people based on their similarities and shows them content or recommendations that match those attributes.
For example, a brand might implement a sign-up form that only offers a discount to shoppers it recognizes as new customers who haven’t yet made a purchase.
McKay gives the example of looking for new athleisure. He stayed on a site for 15 minutes, and then abandoned his cart.
When the brand followed up, he says, “the UGC was brilliant. They had awesome photos of somebody wearing the exact color of the outfit I was looking for. They also included some 5-star reviews. It also had an intelligent product recommendation for a pair of socks. I very much checked out and ended up buying more than I planned to, because of the relevance of their personalization.”
Which brands should invest in ecommerce personalization?
We get it—you only have so many hours in a day to try all of the marketing strategies everyone is telling you to try, which means you have to be selective about what you decide to pursue.
In fact, it might not make sense for you to spend your time on various personalization efforts—but 2X eCommerce founder Kunle Campbell has some suggestions to help you determine if it’s the right move for your ecommerce business.
According to Campbell, “brands executing on-site personalization require both traffic and SKU scale.” This means the brands most eligible for ecommerce personalization tend to:
- Have a heavy SKU count above 500 (ideally in the 1000s)
- Have a high returning visitor rate (50%+)
- Encourage account sign-ins for full-on experience
- Constantly collect transactional data (like grocery online retail)
While brands that match these descriptions will likely see the most return on ecommerce personalization, you might find that experimenting with or A/B testing different techniques has a valuable impact on your store.
Additionally, as you learn more about ecommerce personalization and start to recognize it on other sites, you’ll see that strategies range from entry-level (which is what we’re covering in this blog) toadvanced.
You can start now, and start measuring the impacts, and decide over time if personalization at scale works well enough for your brand to invest more into it. Let’s get started.
Learn from the best: how 11 real brands do ecommerce personalization
The number of times someone has been on your website plus what they did when they got there—the pages they visited, and how long they stuck around—helps you understand your relationship with that person.
Use these patterns to personalize on-site content. Here are several common categories of people based on on-site behavior, what these categories might tell you about these people, and how you can begin to think about altering their experience on the site as a result.
- New visitors: This person just met you. They don’t know much about your brand, the products you sell, why you sell them, etc. Your goal is to leave a great first impression and move them closer to buying from you.
- Returning visitors: This person has visited your site multiple times but still hasn’t purchased. You’re doing something right! Are they reading blog content? Are they getting stuck somewhere in the funnel? How can you look at their user journeys anonymously (because you haven’t ethically collected any Customer-First Data) to figure out how you can best serve their needs?
- Customers: This person knows you. You might even be friends. Maybe they’re here to leave a great review, or return a product, or buy something new. You have more power here than you did before they purchased—now, you’ve collected Customer-First Data including their email address, what they purchased, how much they engaged with various email campaigns, workflows, text messages, etc. How can you leverage that data to give them a personalized experience on the site that makes them a repeat customer—and, soon, a raving fan?
- Returning customers: This person is your biggest fan and supporter. They love your products, and that’s evident in their purchase history. Now, they’re back on your site—looking to buy new products, leave reviews, hang out in your community, etc. How can you make it easier for them to buy again, and to recommend you to others? What site experiences would make them feel known and seen, and appreciated for their business and support?
Let’s look at a few brands that are doing this well.
Ecommerce personalization for new visitors: 3 brand examples
Personalized product recommendations can increase shopper engagement by 369%. And you don’t have to wait long to start using someone’s browsing behavior and browsing history to show them more relevant products, and begin to personalize their shopping experience.
For example, when a shopper looks at a specific product or adds it to their cart, use this opportunity to cross-sell (sell complementary items or up-sell similar or higher-value items by offering similar product recommendations.
Here, luxury brand Marc Jacobs shows the visitor similar items to the one they clicked on, in order to cross-sell.
The price of the original handbag the visitor clicked on was $395. The cross-sell options presented first are all a bit cheaper, except the one on the right.
The choice to cross-sell—without trying to up-sell—does a lot to build trust. The company is not trying to get the visitor to spend extra money—at least not at first.
If the visitor keeps scrolling, they see an even more highly personalized screen, with the headline “Picks for you.” These are closer in style to the original product the visitor clicked on—a simple black patent leather bag—and include more options at a higher price, creating the opportunity for an up-sell.
This is a great example of using personalization to cross-sell and up-sell. And it’s well worth your effort: Octane AI reports that personalized shopping cart recommendations influence over 90% of online shoppers to buy products.
Activewear brand Girlfriend Collective uses this cart fly-out to cross-sell additional items from their activewear line—and call the shopper’s attention to the free shipping threshold.
A note on free shipping thresholds:
Free shipping thresholds are powerful tools, and you want to set them just above the average cost of a single product. That way, you can easily encourage higher average order value (AOV) with a single product add-on. Girlfriend Collective has done this above—if the shopper adds one more product to check-out, they’ll trip the free shipping threshold.
You can also add similar products or previously viewed items to your home page, product pages, search pages, collection pages, and other touchpoints. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce include this in their out-of-the-box and free themes.
Alternatively, take a page out of the FastGrowingTrees marketing playbook. Instead of recommending similar items on their product pages, they up-sell the shopper by recommending complementary items in an effort to increase AOV.
Girlfriend Collective does this, too, on their product pages, by recommending products that are similar to the item on view:
Ecommerce personalization for repeat visitors: X brand examples
Skincare brand Dermalogica recognizes returning shoppers with a pop-up featuring the products they showed the most interest in on their last visit, according to Nosto.
Instead of showing shoppers the same pop-up asking them for an email address they already gave, this experience picks shoppers up where they left off—resulting in a 5% click-through rate on the pop-up and a 6.93% increase in average order value (AOV) for the brand.
Ecommerce personalization for customers and repeat customers
Is this kind of behavioral targeting and personalization right for your brand? Ask:
- Do you find that your customers are looking for different products or experiences based on where they are in the user journey?
- Do different shoppers interact with your online store differently based on whether they’ve purchased or not?
If so, personalizing your ecommerce website based on past interactions might be a good move—and if you’re looking to improve your ecommerce conversion rate or opt-in rate, this method is your best (and easiest!) bet.
One easy way to start implementing this kind of personalization on your site is by excluding certain pop-ups, messages, or even form fields from folks who have already seen them or provided the information those forms are requesting.
This is a way for you to improve the customer experience on your site through automation, and even collect more Customer-First Data as customers interact with more of your brand.
Some brands take this even further and offer new messages to repeat customers, excluding those who didn’t take an action on the first messages. Here, you might say something like, “Welcome back! Looks like you haven’t used that 10% off code yet. Don’t forget it!”
This takes little work on your part, but it subtly improves the customer experience by meeting them with a message that is relevant to where they are in the customer journey.
Ecommerce personalization based on where shoppers live
Whether or not you have an international audience, geo-targeting is a helpful tool in your ecommerce personalization strategy. Here are a few cases where it might apply:
- You have a physical store: if you have a store in Austin, Texas, for example, and want shoppers from that region to get in-store pick up options or to learn about your in-store sale
- You have region-specific products: if you sell goods specifically related to specific regions and you want to showcase your California-specific products, for example, to your California audience
- You sell internationally: if you have a customer base that wants to shop in their own language and currency, even if those differences are relatively small (like American versus Canadian versus British English)
80% of people agree that marketing campaigns that use location data are more effective. Use geo-targeting to identify where shoppers are coming from and ensure the experience you serve is consistent with their location.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Ecommerce personalization to highlight your physical store
When someone shops on Everlane’s website, they can see on the product page whether the item they’re browsing is available in a store near them. This gives shoppers the option to skip the shipping costs by picking the item up themselves, and creates an overall seamless omnichannel experience between ecommerce and retail stores.
Ecommerce personalization to increase regional engagement
Using geo-location to personalize the on-site experience for different shoppers can increase engagement. Some brands even pull in weather data to inform which products to recommend to shoppers in different areas.
Here’s an example of how you can use personalized homepage hero banners to promote certain collections to customers based on the local weather forecast or season.
FastGrowingTrees, similarly, uses a simple, non-intrusive form to collect zero-party data, then guides shoppers to the best purchase options depending on where they live.
Ecommerce personalization for international audiences
For brands that serve international audiences, geo-targeting is a non-negotiable. People want to shop in their language and in their own currency, for starters.
If your brand sells apparel, you already know that sizing is different all over the world as well. Australian fashion brand Princess Polly uses geo-location to guide visitors to the online store that has sizes and currency in metrics the visitor will understand.
Ecommerce personalization based on referral source
Personalizing your website based on how someone landed there is another great way to create customized experiences. There are two main ways to do this, listed below, and in order of importance:
The first is by referral source, which you typically set yourself and which includes various campaigns. For example:
- A referral source for an email marketing campaign you sent
- A referral source for a specific paid social campaign you’re running
- A referral source for a particular influencer campaign you set up
- A referral source for a newsletter advertisement you placed
Or, by default channel grouping in Google Analytics, like:
- Social media
- Paid social
Why personalize your site based on how someone landed there?
Based on the way someone finds your website, they’re likely looking for different things. For example:
- Some search for a keyword and come across your search ad or even a high-ranking blog post.
- Some come across your store organically on social media, or through a paid ad on the same feed.
- Some find you after a podcast spot, a subway ad, or a referral code from a friend.
The list goes on. And the intent behind each of these discovery channels is different, too. Consider:
- Plenty of people will come to your website looking for a specific product, and they might be ready to make an on-the-spot purchase.
- Others will stumble upon your brand and mosey around your pages in no rush to buy.
Shouldn’t the page they land on and the content that it includes match their intent? By thinking about the experience you set up for these shoppers, you’ll more accurately cater to that audience—and increase conversion rates.
There are endless ways to personalize customer experiences based on referral source—and now that you know it’s a common practice, you’ll probably notice the next time you go to a brand’s website via a non-direct channel.
Here are a few examples of brands expertly curating different experiences based on how consumers found their ecommerce stores.
Personalizing the buyer journey based on the influencer
One brand that nails their personalization based on referral source is Ogee. This clean beauty brand runs an Instagram ad that features an influencer using one of their face sticks. That influencer then speaks to the benefits of it compared to similar products.
Ogee understands that consumers who interact with this ad are likely to be interested in beauty tips from the pros, so swiping up leads to a blog titled, “3 Top Makeup Tips By Beauty Insiders.”
This smart marketing strategy speaks directly to the site visitor who clicks on the ad, bringing them into Ogee’s buyer journey. The blog post includes multiple CTAs to the products as well as additional user-generated content, like an influencer-led makeup tutorial and customer testimonials.
Personalizing the product catalog based on search intent
Another example of a brand expertly using referrer source personalization is Athena Club. Search “razor subscription” on Google, and you’ll find an advertisement for their razor subscription.
Athena Club is known for their razors, but they also offer a variety of hygiene products. For this Google search ad, however, they waste no time showing shoppers their larger product catalog.
Athena Club recognizes that people who are searching “razor subscription” have a high intent to purchase exactly that. Instead of wasting time by sending them to the home page, they land you on the subscription page.
Personalizing the collection page based on an SMS campaign
The leather accessories brand recently sent out text notifications promoting their Leather + Signature sale. Subscribers who clicked through the text landed on a collection page that included all the items from the sale.
While this is a fairly simple strategy, it matches consumer intent by helping people find the sale items they came to the site for, instead of forcing them to navigate through the site to find the collection page.
Another thing to keep in mind here is mobile website optimization. Make sure the user experience is optimized for smartphone and tablet users by limiting pop-ups, making sign-up forms mobile-friendly, and implementing responsive design.
Ecommerce personalization that just makes sense
Experts on the internet love to wax poetic about the power of ecommerce personalization. And they’re not necessarily wrong.
But you don’t need to invest heavy amounts of time or effort into personalization to see results.
Start with the data, the audience, and the tools you have, and create baseline personalized experiences to see if they increase conversion. The more they work, the more you can invest in more advanced personalization strategies.