When Ecommerce “Personalization” Goes Awry

Why Engagement is More Important than List Size to denote ecommerce personalization going awry

A few months ago, I walked into a shoe store by my house. I’d torn through a pair of running shoes and needed to find a replacement pair for an upcoming half-marathon. As the door closed behind me, the store’s lone sales rep jumped out from behind the register.

“Great to see you again! We’ve got a great clearance deal on winter boots. You can dump these things in a bucket of water and your feet will stay dry. You’re a big outdoors guy, right? I bet we have your size.”

It was May. Flowers were blooming and, unless those boots could also convert into flip-flops, they were the last thing I wanted to buy. When the sales rep sensed my disinterest, he cascaded to his next pitch — this one aimed at my 6-year-old twins, who were scurrying around the shop.

“Did you hear about our awesome discounts on kids shoes? They’re over here if you want to check them out.”

Apparently, I wasn’t giving off the vibe that I was a fitness nut who just wanted a new pair of New Balance Fresh Foam Zantes. Instead, the rep saw someone who’d made a full transition into the “suburban dad who buys stuff for his kids” persona.The Unfulfilled Potential of Ecommerce PersonalizationNow, here’s why I was willing to forgive the sales rep.

When I walk into a traditional brick-and-mortar store, I don’t necessarily expect reps to remember exactly who I am, what I shop for, which brands I prefer, and what deals I respond to. It’s nice if they do, but I also recognize the limits of offline retail. As such, I’m more tolerant of presumptive generalizations.

With ecommerce, my expectations are very different — and I’m not alone. In fact, a 2015 survey found that the most important element in creating an effective online shopping experience is making sure it feels easy and relevant. According to the study:

  • 81% of consumers say they simply want ecommerce brands to empower them to find what they’re looking for and buy the product when and how they want
  • More than half of internet users believe ecommerce offers and information should be tailored to their current interests, personal taste, and location

If that’s not enough, another recent study found that 78% of consumers say personalized messages influence their likelihood of making repeat purchases, while 74% say personalization would impact their likelihood of buying products or services they hadn’t considered.

Yet, in a classic example of marketing hubris, research has also found that just 28% of companies are investing heavily in personalization to improve the online purchasing experience, despite the fact that doing so has improved the majority of those companies’ online sales over the past 12 months. 3 Ways to Optimize Your Ecommerce Personalization EffortsThis disconnect presents an existential problem for eCommerce brands.

While modern ecommerce marketers might understand the value of data (and rely on it in some form), the reality is that most aren’t going beyond surface-level analytics and intelligence to truly understand their customers. For the consumer, this results in generic messaging that feels made-for-the-masses. And for the brand, this results in weaker experiences, annoyed customers, and lower conversion rates.

How can your business turn the tide and deliver the experiences your customers deserve?

Here are three foundational tips that will help your company move away from generic, persona-driven messaging and toward highly personalized ecommerce experiences.

1. Leverage multi-dimensional data
Far too often, ecommerce marketers rely on vague demographic or behavioral data that tells only part of the customer’s story. Just because a customer clicks on a Facebook ad for running shoes doesn’t mean she wants to be bombarded with emails and offers for other running apparel.

To get a complete customer view, you need to gather as much information as possible (emails opened, website activity, purchase history, where the customer lives, etc.) and sew all of that information together to create true 360-degree view of who your customers are and what they care about. For instance, you might ask a customer directly for gender and content preferences, and pair that with inferences that can be made based on purchase or website activity. Regardless, the goal is to collect only what you think will be useful and to do it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the customer experience.

2. Invest in truly dynamic segmentation
While many ecommerce brands segment their customer base, few of those efforts are driven by truly granular insight into a customer behavior across multiple channels. Ultimately, this capability is one of the cornerstones of personalization.

The idea here is to build detailed segments using intelligence from multiple data sources — web tracking, demographic information, cross-channel activity metrics, etc. — that allow you to create detailed segments (say, 30-something dads who are loyal to New Balance running shoes and haven’t purchased new shoes in the last three months). Here are a few data points you might consider using, as well as the platforms you can use to pull that data:

  • Purchase activity: This can include frequency of visits, amount spent, and number of purchases, and can be pulled from your ecommerce platform.
  • Website activity: This includes product pages viewed, abandoned shopping cart items, and number of visits to a specific page, and can be accessed via web tracking or your email service provider (ESP).
  • Email activity: This includes email opens, clicks, and conversions, and you can get this data from your ESP.

3. Personalize content based on specific actions by specific segments
Let’s say your data tells you that a particular segment of very loyal customers are more likely to be early adopters of new products and share them with their friends on Facebook. In this scenario, anything you serve up to those customers — email offers, Facebook Ads, etc. — should align with their behavioral tendencies and the actions that specific group of customers are likely to take.

Of course, this tactic is only truly effective if you have the robust data and the tools to more deeply evaluate, understand, and segment your customer database.

One easy way to achieve that level of sophistication is to aggregate all of your data in one place and make it accessible in your ESP. Why is that beneficial? Think about the valuable insight you could derive from comparing Google Analytics data to email marketing data. Doing this would allow you to see how individual customers are arriving to your site and how specific email campaigns impact traffic to the site. With that information, it’s much easier to create emails that are customized around unique user behaviors. And for the record: yes, you sure can use Klaviyo to do this. Is 1:1 Personalization at Scale Really Possible?In short, yes.

In fact, many mid-market ecommerce brands are already leveraging a suite of technologies to segment traffic by specific user attributes, deliver messaging that’s tailor made to that person’s digital footprint, and customize products and pricing to their unique behavioral attributes.

This isn’t the future. It’s the present. It’s how the best brands differentiate from the generic ones and create powerful competitive advantages that are rooted in abnormally strong customer relationships. And, in the eyes of the modern consumer, those unique experiences are quickly raising the bar for every other ecommerce business.

The question you need to answer is this: Is your brand the one setting that standard, or is it the one offering discounts on kids shoes and winter boots to a 30-something dad who just wants to buy a new pair of running shoes?


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