Owned marketing

Ecommerce personalization: How (and why) to get started now + 12 real brand examples

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Table of contents

There’s nothing new about on-site personalization in ecommerce.

In fact, 33% of marketers in the U.S. dedicate 50% or more of their budget to it, according to Statista. And, 74% of ecommerce sites in the U.S. and UK are already using on-site personalization tactics as part of their conversion rate optimization strategy.

Great. So, how does an entrepreneur get up to speed so they can compete with the likes of their larger competitors?

Well, you start small and with what you’ve got, and the first thing you’ll need is data.

The most commonly used types of data for ecommerce personalization are, in order of the most used by ecommerce brands:

  1. Real-time behavioral data (i.e. targeting people dwelling on the shopping cart page): Used by 76% of brands
  2. Individual user profile data (i.e. using a Customer Data Platform or tool like Klaviyo): Used by 63% of brands
  3. Data ingested from other channels (i.e. targeting email subscribers––also a Kalviyo specialty): Used by 62% of brands 
  4. Cookie based historical data (i.e. new users versus returning users): Used by 62% of brands

The second thing you’ll need is a platform that collects that personal data, organizes it, and makes it usable for you and your team.

This means you’ll need a way to create those different on-site experiences for your customers based on their ethically collected data, i.e. Customer-First Data™. This is data customers have explicitly given you permission to use.

In all likelihood, you already have both of these things.

Now, you just need to learn how to use the data you’ve collected within your customer experience tool (Klaviyo is a good example of one) to launch personalized site experiences and measure results.

Let’s start from the beginning, though, to get you introduced to the concept (i.e. why does this even help conversion rate?) and then walk you through 16 different ecommerce personalization tactics you can start to use right now.

Your competitors won’t even see you coming. Let’s go.

What is ecommerce personalization?

There’s one thing that can separate an average online shopping experience from an outstanding one—and that’s ecommerce personalization.

Ecommerce personalization––or website personalization––is when you create different onsite experiences for different shoppers in order to make them more relevant and targeted to the individual’s specific interests and needs.

Ecommerce personalization is said to improve conversion rates and retention because 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations to them. As a result on-site personalization can be a major differentiator between your brand and a competitor.

Technically, there are two ways to personalize your on site experience for shoppers:

  1. One-to-one personalization
  2. One-to-few personalization

Let’s take a look at each.

One-to-one ecommerce personalization example

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!).

Image shows customizable beauty, an example of one-to-one personalization.

This is an example of one-to-one personalization.

One-to-few ecommerce personalization example

Brands more commonly use one-to-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 signup form that only offers a discount to shoppers it recognizes as new customers that haven’t yet made a purchase.

Image shows several happy people wearing glasses.

What 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, which means you have to be selective with 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 onsite personalization require both traffic and SKU scale.” This means the brands most eligible for ecommerce personalization would tend to:

  • Have a heavy SKU count from 500+ (ideally in the 1000s)
  • Have a high returning visitor rate +50%
  • Encourage account sign-ins for full-on experience
  • Must be constantly feed with 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’ll cover in this blog) to rather advanced.

That’s ok!

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.

Treat shoppers differently based on past website interactions

The number of times someone has been on your website, and what they’ve done when they’ve come, helps you understand your relationship with that person.

Use these patterns to personalize onsite 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 has 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: These folks have come to your site multiple times now, but still haven’t purchased. You’re doing something right! Are they reading blog content? Are they getting stuck somewhere in a 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: These folks know you! You might even be friends! Maybe they are 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 because now, you’ve collected Customer-First Data including their email, what they purchased, how engaged they were 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 raving fan, and soon, a repeat customer?
  • Returning customers: These folks are your biggest fans and supporters. They love your products, and that is evident in their purchase history. Now, they are back on your site –– looking to buy new products, to leave reviews, to hang out in your community, etc. How can you make it easier for these folks 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 doing this today.

Real-time brand examples for personalization for new visitors:

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 (selling similar or higher value items) with similar product recommendations.

Activewear brand Girlfriend Collective uses a cart flyout to cross-sell additional items from their activewear line and call the shopper’s attention to the free shipping threshold.

Image shows women wearing leggings.

A note on free shipping thresholds:
Free shipping thresholds are powerful tools, and you want to set it 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. You can see Girlfriend Collective has done this above, where if I add on one more product to checkout, I’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. Most ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce have this included in their out-of-the-box and free themes.

Girlfriend Collective has done this, as well, on their product pages by recommending products that are similar to the item being viewed:

Image shows women wearing leggings.

Alternatively, take a page out of Three Ship Beauty’s 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.

Image shows bottles of different skincare.

Ecommerce personalization brand examples for repeat visitors:

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.

Image shows a screen on a computer showing the user what they'd previously looked at.

Instead of showing shoppers the same pop-up asking them for an email address they already gave, this experience picks up where they left off—resulting in a 5% click-through rate on the pop-up and 6.93% increase in average order value (AOV) for the brand.

Personalization for customers and repeat customers:

One very easy way to start implementing personalization on your site is by excluding certain pop-ups, messages or even form fields from folks who have already seen them or given you that information.

This is a way for you to improve the customer experience on your site through automation and even collect more Customer-First Data from them as they interact with more of your brand.

Image shows a Klaviyo screen that allows you to target visitors based on their profiles.

You can easily exclude pop-up email collection forms or promotional messages from folks who have already given you the information you want.

Some brands take this even further, and offer new messages to these folks (excluding those who haven’t taken an action on the first messages). Here, you might say, “Welcome back! Looks like you haven’t used that 10% off code yet. Don’t forget it!”

This takes little work on your part, and subtly improves the customer experience by meeting them with a message that is relevant to where they are at in the customer journey.

Is behavioral targeting and personalization right for your brand?

  • 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 conversion rate or opt-in rate, this method is your best (and easiest!) bet.

Create different experiences 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, TX, for instance, 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––like Home Goods does––and you want to showcase your California-specific products to your California audience.
  • You sell internationally: And therefore have a customer base that will want to shop in their own language and currency, even if those differences are relatively small (like American versus Canadian versus British English).

Overall, you want to use geo-targeting to identify where shoppers are coming from, and ensure the experience you serve is consistent with their location—especially considering 80% of people agreed that marketing campaigns that use location data are more effective.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Ecommerce personalization to highlight your physical store.

When someone shops on Everlane’s website, they can see if the item they’re browsing is available in a store near them on the product page. This gives shoppers the option to skip the shipping costs by picking the item up themselves, and creates an overall seamless omnichannel experience between the ecommerce and retail stores.

Image shows a woman wearing a silk shirt styled with different pairs of jeans.

Ecommerce personalization to increase regional engagement

Using geo-location to personalize the 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 a brand that sells outdoor equipment could use personalized homepage hero banners to promote certain collections to customers based on the local weather forecast or season.

Image shows a woman enjoying the rain. A second image shows a person standing outside in a snowy forest.

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.

When you visit UK brand True Vintage, the website immediately recognizes which country you’re coming from.

Image shows a pop-up that indicates that a company ships internationally, and explaining some terms.

If you’re from the US, they serve you a pop-up to switch the shopping experience to the US location so that the prices, shipping charges, and other details are more accurate.

Is geo-location targeting and personalization right for your brand?

Do you:

  • Have an international audience
  • Speak to various customer demographics
  • Sell more of a certain product or collection depending on the season
  • Have a brick-and mortar presence?

These are all good reasons to personalize according to geolocation.

Curate an experience based on how someone found your website

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:

Or by referral source, which you typically set yourself and that 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 are 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 often found in Google Analytics, like:

  • Organic
  • Direct
  • Social Media
  • Paid Social
  • Email

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.

  • Some will search for a keyword and come across your search ad or even a high-ranking blog post.
  • Some will come across your store organically on social media, or through a paid ad on the same feed.
  • Some will 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.

  • 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.

6 ecommerce personalization ideas based on referral source

Here are some ways to think about curating personalized shopping experiences based on how someone found your site using UTM tags.

  1. If you feature a specific product in any ad, be sure to send anyone who clicks on that ad to that product’s page. Better yet, create specific ad landing pages for those products. These pages should make it easy to buy that product, but also effectively tell your brand story since this will be many visitors’ first time on your site.
  2. If someone finds your brand from a giveaway an influencer posted on organic social, set up a landing page that highlights the influencer and showcases the reasons people love them.
  3. If someone clicks on your website from a friend’s referral link, make sure the messaging makes it clear that the referral discount is instantly applied to their account, and consider a landing page that features more social proof.
  4. If someone comes to your website from an SMS campaign promoting a flash sale, bring them to a sale collection page that’s optimized for mobile devices.
  5. If someone clicks on a search ad, serve them a landing page that meets the keyword search intent.
  6. If someone comes directly to your website using a custom URL after seeing a billboard in Brooklyn advertising your brand, set up a landing page that speaks directly to that discovery channel (eg. “Welcome, New Yorkers”).

3 ecommerce personalization examples based on referral source

There are endless ways that brands can 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 the ways brands are expertly curating different experiences based on how consumers get to their ecommerce stores.

Personalizing the buyer journey based on the influencer

One brand that nails their personalization by using referrer 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.”

Image shows 3 different women holding up makeup next to their faces.

This smart marketing strategy speaks directly to the site visitors who clicks on the ad, and brings 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.

Image shows google search results for "razor subscription"

Athena Club is known for their razors, but they offer a variety of hygiene products. For this Google search ad, however, they waste no time showing shoppers their larger product catalog.

They recognize 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.

Image shows a pink razor begin up up on a shower wall, with product details to the right.

Brand example of personalizing the collection page based on an SMS campaign

Dagne Dover has seen 12,000% return on investment with SMS marketing, which is partially due to their deep understanding of the intent of consumers coming through the channel and interacting with various campaigns.

The leather accessories brand recently sent out text notifications promoting their Leather + Signature sale. Subscribers who clicked through the text were conveniently met with a collection page that included all of the items from the Signature Leather Refresh sale.

Image shows a woman holding a black purse, within a SMS message, with additional products to the right.

While this is a fairly simple strategy, it matches the 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—ensure that the user experience is optimized for smartphone and tablet users by limiting pop-ups, making signup forms mobile-friendly, and implementing responsive design.

Ecommerce personalization that just makes sense

There are experts on the internet that will wax poetic about the power of ecommerce personalization. And they aren’t necessarily wrong.

But you don’t need to invest heavy amounts of time or effort into personalization to see the 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.

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Alexandra McPeak
Alexandra McPeak
Content strategist
Alex McPeak is a Content Strategist at Klaviyo. She helps entrepreneurs and small businesses grow. Before joining Klaviyo in 2020, Alex spent several years writing, editing, and podcasting throughout the Boston tech scene. Alex graduated from Emmanuel College. Outside of work, Alex enjoys traveling to warmer places, reading mystery novels, and eating sushi.
Tracey Wallace
Tracey Wallace
Director, content strategy
Tracey is the Director of content strategy at Klaviyo. Previously, she has led marketing teams for early stage start-ups from $0 to >$10M in revenue, and was the former Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce, where she grew organic content sessions to 1M monthly and 20K monthly content downloads. She started her career in journalism at Elle.com and, later, Mashable.