What is personalization in ecommerce? If you browse anything on the web, you know it far better than you think you do. Personalized marketing is done through collecting and analyzing user data in order to show them relevant content and offers. It can appear in the form of discounts, recommendations, email follow ups specific to each customer.

illustration of personalization in ecommerce app
Illustration by OrangeCrush

The simplest (and most visible) example of personalized marketing is when you see an ad on Facebook for that, say, humidifier you’ve been thinking about buying but haven’t quite decided on. Perhaps it’s been in your cart for some time. Perhaps you’ve also looked at other humidifiers but then came back to this one. Maybe you are indecisive about price or whether it is easy to clean and done some research about it.

While this is one of the examples that’s most visible and often found the most “creepy”, when done openly personalization is an important way to build better connections with consumers.

Personalization in ecommerce allows sellers to offer what they’ve derived to be relevant to each individual customer, in a way that is useful and interesting for them. This in turn, improves the shopping experience and creates return customers. Let’s take a look at the greater extent of benefits.

Why do brands use personalization in ecommerce?

As recent as this phenomenon may seem, the benefits of personalization in ecommerce have been closely tracked and shared by companies for a few decades. Amazon is considered a pioneer in the practice and their work on this can be dated back to 1998. But besides significant and recorded increases in sales connected to personalized marketing, what is the appeal of practicing these methods?

Creating a curated experience for each user

Personalization is a way for ecommerce to emulate the in-person shopping experience.

people screens illustration
Personalization helps curate a bespoke experience for all customers by Ordnassela

In an online shop, you do not have the ability to have a sales person bring a customer things they may like, in their size and price bracket. Personalization helps translate that experience to the digital sphere. You may see this practice embraced pretty universally in ecommerce, because it works.

“Related products”, “more like this”, “you may like”; these features are all ways of making it easier for you to find other items similar to the one you are currently looking at (or have previously looked at).

Personalization improves the user experience

Since personalization is a common practice and a present reality of the ecommerce industry, it’s fair to note that relevant content makes for a far better experience than random content. Brace yourself for my oversimplification but—if I am on an online shop to buy vegan cookies and I have been consistently buying vegan baked goods on this shop, I may not be very interested in having cured meats recommended to me.

Deepens awareness of customer experience

Personalization can be a powerful tool in curating a highly specialized experience for customers, learning about current trends and buyer habits. It helps ecommerce be sensitive and perceptive to users.

How can you successfully integrate customer personalisation into your ecommerce website or design?

Transparency and collaboration with customers is key to this practice. Customers respond more to personalization that is descriptive and open about methodology. According to a Harvard Business School study published on Journal of Consumer Research, “when they showed people messages next to ads saying things like ‘recommended based on your clicks on our site,’ they were more likely to click and make purchases than if no message was present.”

people talking illustration top image
Successful personalization prioritizes user experience over everything else, by Spoon Lancer

Furthermore, experiments disclosed by the Harvard Business Review revealed evidence that “when consumers realize that their personal information is flowing in ways they dislike, purchase interest declines.” Personalization proves to be effective when it prioritizes elevating user experience and building trust with users.

You may still be asking yourself, how is it practiced though? There are two parts to the equation: to capture data and personalize it. This is done through several methods:

Behavioral targeting

This describes gathering data about how a user has behaved on a certain website. How do they tend to browse? Do they go straight to product category or do they look at new items? What have they purchased in the past? Psychographics play a big role in behavioral targeting by understanding user interests, values, emotions, etc.

Demographics

Simply put users are placed into categories by age, gender and income. The practice can get much more nuanced, as you may see in our post about creating user personas.

AI (artificial intelligence)

Machine learning is an indispensable tool for personalization. All the things that could be considered for personalized marketing are infinite. AI takes in data beyond the specific and translates it into tangible personalization steps. And it can do this while the user is interacting with the website and give them suggestions then and there.

7 tips to perfect personalized marketing

In order to understand these concepts better and come up with a personalization strategy, it’s incredibly helpful to take a look at the different ways it is used in ecommerce.

The below examples will highlight personalization strategies across mediums—apps, desktop and email marketing and also touch on how they interact with each other.

1. Personalized homepages

Homepages are a great example of personalization. Here is an opportunity to get straight to the point and present customers with content that might interest them based on their browsing habits, purchasing trends, location—this list can go on and on.

netflix homepage
Netflix personalizes the homepage so that everything you need is in one place. Via Netflix

Homepage personalization is obviously a great choice for streaming services. It’s like a much more user friendly spin on the “Guide” section of cable service providers. Personalized homepages make it possible to just go to the homepage and use that as your basis. What do I mean by this? Let’s say I preview something or consider something but I always go back to the homepage, that’s where everything that I need is. So this method is especially useful for ecommerce sites with one type of product (video streaming, social network, news roundup subscription sites).

Netflix’s homepage has just about everything you could possibly be seeking. Genre groupings, recommendations based on my viewing history, shows that are most popular in the world and where I currently am. An option to “Continue Watching”. It truly feels like I’ve arrived at a home of sorts; it’s almost too personal to take a screenshot of.

2. Feature recently viewed

“Recently viewed” is a way to reconnect with customers and give them the experience of picking up where you left off. There are times when I am about to purchase something but worry about the cost or I simply get distracted before I complete the transaction, or I want to return to an album I was listening to. Making these interactions easy to return to is beneficial for the ecommerce site and for the user.

Alo moves jump back in
I can finally finish that workout I had started. Via Alo Moves

This “recently viewed” section brings continuity to ecommerce relationships. I could see something that I go ahead and purchase or I could also be shown a pair of jeans I was looking at and think to myself “What was I thinking? I’m glad I didn’t buy this.” This personalization feature is great for just about any ecommerce business.

The example above shows how a browsing history personalization tool is really useful for online educational or work out classes. Alo Moves is the brand Alo Yoga’s website and subscription service dedicated to online workout classes. The “Jump Back In” section is extremely useful, it gives the user the opportunity to finish classes they had started or revisit classes that they’ve completed and may have liked. It is possible to further personalize this page based on interest level. For instance, you could present the products (in this case classes) that I’ve frequented the most, first.

3. Geo-targeting

Airbnb explore nearby
Airbnb gives you recommendations based on where you are. Via Airbnb

Where you are currently located has an influence on what you’re looking for. Geolocation is definitely more relevant to certain ecommerce sites over others but it is definitely a very useful tool. The example above is from Airbnb. If I’m planning an escape, it is definitely useful to explore what’s near me before venturing very far. But this isn’t the only helpful element of geo-targeting.

Through cookies, websites can predetermine where you are and adjust your currency, shipping options and also automatically personalize what’s available to you. Imagine if Netflix showed you a bunch of movies you couldn’t play because of your location, that wouldn’t be a very nice experience at all.

Manduka geolocation message
Manduka gives you the option to choose the website that makes most sense to shop from. Via Airbnb

4. Cross-channel personalization

This practice allows brands to seamlessly personalize their products and user experience across channels. Ads, email, browsing history—they all communicate with each other so that you have consistent personalization over various channels.

email from therapy notebooks
This pop-up is like a little welcome beverage. Via Therapy Notebooks

One of the most common examples of this is actually one I explained in my intro. Remember that humidifier that popped up on your Instagram? This is an example of cross-channel personalization. Another way brands do this is by emailing you about a product that might be in your cart, as you will see in the example above.

These emails are usually accompanied by a message that says “Complete your purchase” or something similar and have a direct call to action that links you back to the item. If I click on “Finish checkout” in my email, I am taken back my cart at the ecommerce store, ready to make the purchase.

5. Pop ups that don’t annoy

Let’s face it, pop-ups feel like an interruption most of the time. But what if they were offering you something that adds value to your ecommerce experience? In that case, they may not be annoying at all.

Net-a-porter pop-up
This pop-up is like a little welcome beverage. Via Net-a-Porter

Many ecommerce sites offer a small discount for first time shoppers that visit their websites. The above example is from online clothing retailer Net-a-Porter. The pop-up is not a disruption but a welcoming offer in this case. Before I proceed shopping, I have the 10% off in the back of my mind.

Wolf and badger carousel
Carousels on social media channels make the browsing experience more tangible. Via Wolf and Badger

An ecommerce site may also use their social media channels to display their products creatively across mediums. Instagram’s slideshow feature is an excellent way to create “carousels”, a clickable collection of products. Above you will see the clothing brand Wolf and Badger group a selection of their spring collection in the form of a carousel. It really feels like looking at a glossy catalog.

6. Augmented reality

A really specific and innovative way to personalize the digital shopping experience is through augmented reality. Think of online opticians that allow users to try on glasses or hair salon apps that let you try on haircuts (this doesn’t exist to my knowledge but I hope hair salons get my hint). Especially considering the way the world has been “locked down” in the past year or so and in person shopping experiences have become a rarity, this added layer of personalization and interactivity bridges the gap between digital and reality.

Nike customization
Nike’s augmented reality is just really fun to use. Via Nike

Nike By You (previously Nike ID) gives you room to play around with their timeless designs. Once you pick a style, you are given a blank slate to choose color, inscriptions, whether you’d like a lace or not and even fabric. Personalization for you, by you.

7. Behavioral offers

Tracking and analyzing user behavior can create opportunities to offer them things that may make their experience (or purchase) better. This is usually in the form of discounts but it can also be offering a slideshow of similar products or popular products in the same category. For example, if a person previously looked at bike locks but didn’t purchase one, why not personalize their homepage or cart to display a range?

Zalando personalized offer
Zalando is offering me discounts for items I’ve looked at. Via Zalando

The above is an example of multinational e commerce company Zalando offering me a pretty apt selection. I’ve been looking at jeans, I’ve even bought and returned some, added some to my wish list, basically I’ve been spending a lot of time on jeans on their website. It’s super helpful that they are showing me some jeans on sale, some are specifically from my wish list.

Am I interested to see an item I’ve been looking at is on sale? Yes, absolutely. This personalization feature really makes me more inclined to purchase. The site is showing me something I am interested in, at a better price. What’s not to like?

8. CTAs

Personalization in ecommerce works best when it works with a person.  Involving users as active participants, through feedback and through open communication makes personalization effective and successful.

landing page for ecommerce brand Good Day
Good Day brings focus to its CTA through layout, imagery and palette. By My Creative Mind

You’ll see call the action (CTA) buttons in all of these examples with descriptive language that makes the personalization process open to each customer. Whether it says,“Based on browsing history”, “Because you are interested in [x]”, the language is crucial in explaining the methodology and the logic. I am much more inclined to respond to personalization in ecommerce if I know what purpose it is serving and how it came to exist.

Conclusion

Don’t be a robot: personalization is about tailoring your services to the individual in the most efficient way for you. This creates a better user experience, makes them feel special and will lead to better conversions for you.

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