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How online retailers can create a highly personalised experience

How online retailers can create a highly personalised experience

Those e-commerce businesses that get personalisation right will be able to develop long-lasting relationships with customers and steal market share at the expense of slower moving competitors, insists Mark Simpson, Founder and President of Maxymiser.

Web shoppers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and they now expect the same experience online as they would receive in a traditional bricks and mortar store – if not better.

This is where the latest ‘personalisation’ technology can make a real difference to online revenues, helping e-commerce businesses to engage with customers on a one-to-one basis, boosting sales and customer loyalty. However, years of vendor hype and over-promises mean that to date personalisation has not lived up to its billing in the industry.     

It is only through a combination of ‘self-learning’ personalisation and multivariate testing technology and services, all delivered through a single platform, that e-commerce businesses can reap the benefits of truly personalised marketing to customers. But it must be an ongoing commitment – it’s about evolution rather than revolution.

Defining Personalisation

Personalising the customer experience has been marketing’s holy grail for over a decade. Yet ask ten marketers to define personalisation and there will be no consensus, and few are in reality looking to achieve anything more than product recommendations and retargeting.

to Forrester, web personalisation is “Creating experiences on web sites or through interactive media that are unique to individuals or segments of consumers.”

And the web certainly provides amazing insight into customer desires, from search information to tracking online behaviour and purchases. In theory, leveraging this depth of information offers organisations the chance to deliver a personalised online experience that far exceeds anything that can be delivered in store without a dedicated personal shopper! With the right personalisation strategy and tools organisations can offer a customer the online equivalent of a bricks and mortar store where anything they want to buy is located in a single aisle.

And joining up that web based insight with the growing volume of offline information, from store and call centre, offers the chance to deliver a truly consistent, totally personalised multi-channel model that reinforces the brand, drives loyalty and increases sales.

Stepping Stones

So what has been the barrier to achieving true online personalisation – aside from the somewhat confused perceptions? One of the major challenges has been the need to expensively cobble together a number of disparate systems that were not fit for purpose. Banks, for example, which have led the way in personalisation, have achieved this through extensive investment in combining legacy systems with new technology – an expense simply not justifiable for the majority of businesses across the retail or leisure sectors.

However, the latest generation of Software as a Service (SaaS) technology is transforming the landscape, bringing personalisation to the mass market. Indeed, in the US mass market personalisation is happening right now; and although the UK is lagging behind, the majority of companies will have embraced this model within the next 18 months.

There are, therefore, huge opportunities for companies willing and able to leverage low cost SaaS solutions to move towards true personalisation, enabling organisations to achieve online what is already being done offline with propensity modelling and other business analytics.

This is a significant development beyond the segmentation, recommendation and retargeting, that can already be achieved online, providing organisations with an opportunity to get truly close to the online customer for the first time.

It is also important to recognise that personalisation alone is only going to realise half the potential benefits. If the design, layout and presentation is not optimised you are potentially wasting a great opportunity. Even those organisations that already have clearly defined customer segments can drive significant additional value from the use of a/b and multivariate testing in order to maximise value of all visitors.

Organisations need to continually test the content to refine the strategy, understand how customers are responding to personalisation and improve the return on investment. Without effective multivariate testing organisations will not only fail to continuously enhance the relevance of the personalised offers but they could also risk unknowingly disenfranchising customers through the provision of the wrong content.

Understanding Objectives

But before any organisation embarks upon a personalisation strategy it is essential to understand the drivers. It is possible to start small, just personalising a banner on the landing page, but any activity must be undertaken with a consensus about just why the business is looking to tailor the customer experience.

A fashion retail company, for example, will have multiple objectives – from increasing sales; to increasing newsletter registrations; to achieving higher repeat visitor rates by making the site a destination for finding out about new trends and styles and ensuring visitors are more engaged with the brand.

Therefore the goal is to provide tailored experiences through recommendations and targeted content, to both drive up sales and improve the overall user experience.

For a travel agency, the objective is to leverage information – such as pages/holidays viewed during previous visits; or the key word used to arrive at the site – to ensure the content reflects the customer’s known interests, such as long haul holidays.

In addition to tailoring the promotional banner, the customer can be targeted with special long haul offers and provided with implicit and explicit recommendations to reinforce the relevance of the experience.

Maximising Opportunity

Organisations that have already successfully leveraged the new SaaS personalisation and testing solutions have achieved, on average, a double digit increase in conversions. And with more organisations looking to get in on the act, especially in the US, speed is key.

The good news is that with the SaaS model, organisations can be up and running immediately. Add in the multi-channel data, from call centre and store or branch, and the business can have consistent, cross channel personalisation within a quarter.

There is no doubt that, after years of hype and hyperbole, mass market personalisation is now on the way. Those organisations that get in ahead of the wave to automatically create engaging, targeted product and service recommendations based on real, multi-channel customer behaviour will see not only a significant uplift in conversions but also deliver that critical consistent experience with brand and company.

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