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5 Interesting Ways to Personalize the E-Commerce Experience

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According to a recent article from McKinsey, “personalization will be the prime driver of marketing success within five years.” But every e-commerce marketer knows this. Amazon has made it clear that personalization is critical to the e-commerce shopping experience.

But what does “personalization” entail, exactly? To many, personalization simply means a few product recommendations on product detail pages (PDPs) and maybe a triggered cart abandonment email. But it can and should be much more than that.

In this post, I’ll describe five ways to personalize the e-commerce experience beyond those ideas that may first come to mind.

1. Individualize the Homepage Experience

Considering the amount of traffic any website’s homepage typically receives, it’s a critical page to personalize. To personalize the homepage experience, you could select a few different promotions, headlines, images etc. to show to different segments and manually target those experiences with rules, as Shoeline has done in the image below.

In this example, Shoeline targeted a nursing shoe collection experience to a segment of visitors who have demonstrated an interest in nursing shoes in the past.

Or, you could let an algorithm do the work. In that situation, you pick a few different homepage experiences and have an algorithm that uses predictive machine learning to select the optimal content for each person. An algorithm like Contextual Bandit can evaluate the probability of engagement with a promotion, image, offer or experience for a given visitor and compare it with its potential business value or cost to the company before making the ideal selection – all in real-time. This approach allows you to take into consideration all the data you have available, rather than just a few data points you select with a rule-based segment approach.

2. Personalize Emails at Open Time

Every email you send to a customer or prospect should be as personalized as possible, leveraging all you know about the person — beyond just her first name.

But between when an email is sent and when that email is opened, circumstances can change. A recipient could have already responded to an offer sent by email, or she could have shown interest in something completely different in a recent visit to your site. The key is to be relevant at open time, rather than at send time. By personalizing your emails at open time, you have the opportunity to display the latest or most accurate information (like availability, pricing, inventory levels, etc.), show the most appropriate content by factoring in completely up-to-date information about a person’s preferences, and avoid suggesting an action that someone has already taken or dismissed.

For example, the weather and related products displayed in this DSW email change each time I open it to ensure the email never seems outdated.

3. Deliver Recommendations for Categories, Not Just Products

Recommendations are standard for any e-commerce site. But while you may think of products when you think of recommendations, many times when your shoppers visit your site, they’re not looking for anything in particular. They may be looking to browse particular categories instead — just like they do in stores when they gravitate toward specific departments to begin their in-store journey.

In various places on your site, you can recommend categories that are most likely to appeal to each person rather than display a static list of categories you would like to promote — as in this example below.

4. Personalize the out-of-stock experience

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. In this example, Carhartt offers individualized product recommendations on a 404 page.

5. 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 her email address to a cashier, for example, her in-store purchase can trigger an emailed receipt. That email can contain individualized product recommendations that are relevant to the shopper based on her past shopping experiences as well as products that pair with her in-store purchases when applicable (as in the image below). This email can drive her back to the site for more shopping.