Imagine a common scenario: You’re browsing web sites looking to buy a new pair of jeans. Which shopping experience do you prefer…one where you have to wade through four sub-menus before you even get to the jeans, only to discover that you have to click on each option to see the availability in your size? Or, do you prefer an experience that quickly brings you to your favorite style of jeans, narrowed down to your specific size, and also lets you know a navy peacoat similar to one you bought two years ago is now half-price?
Historically, the delivery of personalization has been a real challenge for most, if not all, brands. Inadequate technology budgets, the reality of “turn-key” or “marketer friendly” platforms, organizational ownership and the lack of foundational data are just a few of the common obstacles.
Determined, forward-thinking brands are realizing that to stay competitive in today’s fierce market, they need to provide a positive and memorable online shopping experience to stand out and reinforce loyalty.
Here are three ways in which personalization will help digital commerce companies grow in 2020.
Smarter Data Collection
Only a small percentage of brands personalize site recommendations based on session data and shopping behavior. This can help keep products top of mind or assist shoppers in finding products that are more in-line with their needs, but this personalization is only part of the solution.
In 2020, we’ll see more brands gathering meaningful customer data as part of a conversation, based on a simple premise: Asking the customer, “What do you love?”
Gathering data conversationally over time can be simple, easy and even fun. A shoe retailer, for example, could show site visitors different shoe styles and ask them to rate them. This makes it easy for buyers to make their preferences and tastes known, enabling the retailer to offer more personalized marketing.
Additionally, savvy brands and businesses can take advantage of a typically underutilized tool: the customer profile. Beyond the basic billing and address details, companies can use the customer profile to gather detailed information about each customer’s style preferences, sizes and even insights into how they prefer to navigate the site (grid view versus list view, for example). Further, we can better understand the specific concerns of our customers in order to solve problems and help accomplish life goals.
The key here is to gather data over time and over many mediums, allowing you to create a much more in-depth profile on each customer’s shopping habits and preferences. This profile can then be used to offer a highly personalized shopping experience that makes customers feel special.
Personalized Style Advisory Services
We’ve all had the awkward and unpleasant experience of having a retail associate eagerly recommend item after item that doesn’t match our style. On the other hand, dealing with an associate who listens carefully to what we like, observes what we’ve already picked out, asks questions about our lifestyle, and then carefully curates a selection of items to recommend is a delight.
Fortunately, these pleasurable, personalized experiences aren’t limited to brick-and-mortar businesses in 2020. Personalized style advisory services, such as Stitch Fix and Trunk Club, have built an entire industry around this concept.
Like these pioneers, many more brands are beginning to incorporate these personal assistants to deliver a white-glove online shopping experience. These services go far beyond typical features of a great experience, such as easy returns, custom tailoring and helpful content that help the customer find items that will work perfectly for their needs.
Instead, these brands succeed by seeking out data that delivers a clear picture of each customer’s needs and lifestyles, and then using that data to ensure the customer feels heard, valued and empowered to find precisely what they want with little hassle.
Designing the User Experience…for Each User
Anybody with small children can understand the frustration of going into the App Store or Google Play and seeing an interminable list of recommendations for preschooler games, solely because they downloaded a few Doctor Panda games. If only the experience could be like Netflix, where you can set up different profiles within one account so the system can make recommendations based on each user’s history, right?
Most brands equate one customer account to one shopper, conveniently ignoring the fact that family members often share an account and regularly purchase gifts for others. As a result, the site serves up recommendations for Mr. Smith based on Mrs. Smith’s browsing history or vice versa — leading to marketing that’s often irrelevant.
But what if Mr. and Mrs. Smith had different profiles within the same account, which would allow the site to make more relevant recommendations? And to go even further, what if the item categories listed in the navigation were placed in order of each user’s shopping habits and preferences, making it a breeze for Mrs. Smith to find sporting goods and for Mr. Smith to find gardening supplies? The site could even ask if a purchase is a gift intended for someone else, to help ensure the accuracy of the data being collected.
Add these options to our previously mentioned practices of obtaining and applying information about the customer’s preferences, shopping history, and lifestyle, and brands can now design a completely bespoke online shopping experience for each member of the Smith family — even if they each visit the same digital commerce site using the same computer.
Happier Customers = Better Growth
While businesses have a mind-boggling amount of data and digital tools that our shopkeeper ancestors could never have foreseen in their wildest dreams, there is still one universal truth that links old-school retail know-how to today’s’ personalized online shopping experiences: Treat your customers like gold, and you will rise above the rest.
When customers feel respected, valued, and that their needs are being recognized and cared for, they reward us with strong loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. On the other hand, if they feel like they are simply a number, they will pull up stakes the moment a more convenient or less expensive option comes along.
In 2020, treating customers like gold while they shop online will be easier than ever, as long as digital commerce brands make a point of learning as much as they possibly can about these customers, and then using that information to provide a highly personalized experience. The result? A long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship that spells success.
Mike Davidson is executive creative director at Capgemini’s DCX NA Practice. Davidson frequently speaks on the future of the digital experience, on the topics of how contemporary interactions, emerging technologies, and new expectations are driving the future of digital marketing and commerce.