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Retailers get personal online

Personalisation has rapidly become a buzzword in ecommerce, as retailers grapple to find new ways to prove their relevance to shoppers, stand out from the crowd and build loyalty.

The drive for personalisation comes as retailers are capturing more and more information about their shoppers online – using website cookies, purchasing history, social media interactions, location-based data and IP addresses – which can be used to create profiles of shoppers and better tailor their online experience.

Retailers leading this trend include Shop Direct, which earlier this month unveiled its new fully personalised homepage for, thought to be a retail first. When visiting the site, shoppers with a history there are immediately presented with the latest offer to suit their purchasing history.

The etailer believes this personalisation – which can provide 1.2 million different versions of the site based on promotion messaging and its positioning, rising to 3.5 million by the end of the year – is a huge opportunity that will add more than £20m of incremental sales this year.

Jennifer Day, head of customer management and personalisation at Shop Direct, tells Drapers: “[Our customers] have so much choice now; the internet has given them so many options that they need help finding the right products for them. So, although customers are not specifically using the term personalisation, they are saying ‘help me’ and ‘inspire me’.”

The retailer’s ‘decision engine’ technology also enables it to prioritise search results by personal preferences based on previous orders, such as colour, size and style, saving the shopper time, while navigation on desktop and mobile can now prioritise the categories each shopper prefers to browse.

Rival etailer is also using personalisation to show new customers its bestsellers while existing customers are shown new-in products.

Gareth Powell, head of web analytics for N Brown, tells Drapers that its first personalisation initiative was launched this month across JD Williams, Simply Be and Jacamo via ecommerce platform Monetate, which targets new customers only with discounts to encourage their first purchase – helping to improve lower conversion rates for first-time shoppers.

Simply Be personalised site

Simply Be personalised site

“There’s a lot of intelligence on the mailing side, but we need to build on that for real-time projects on the website so when loyal customers visit they get a different experience from new customers,” he says. “Using this data in real time can make a huge impact on customer experience, improve conversion rates on site and increase [checkout] bag size.”

He adds that the retailer is now looking at the potential to create a banner that remembers the keyword shoppers used to enter the site so that when browsing they are still shown products relevant to their original search, even if they’ve left that product area. It also wants to develop specific homepages for individual UK cities, offer different homepages for those living within 30 miles of one of the retailer’s stores, display weather-specific clothing and use size data from past purchases to only highlight Sale and other products available in the shopper’s size.

Graham Cooke, founder and chief executive of ecommerce personalisation platform Qubit, explains: “Fashion retailers are thinking furthest ahead at the moment, as fashion customers are not heterogeneous customers. We’re starting to see that the one-size-fits-all website is no longer acceptable to the customer.

“More sophisticated customers now expect to see personalisation based on what they have done in the past; they want to see continuity based on what they have looked at or have left in their basket, or their size. In two to three years it won’t be acceptable to have a one-size-fits-all experience anymore.”

Retailers to have used the Qubit platform include Farfetch, which last year started showing messages to shoppers who appeared lost on its site about how to find what they wanted, which resulted in a 17.1% increase in conversion rates. Meanwhile Topshop is using IP addresses to identify US shoppers and automatically translate sizes to US-friendly measurements. This has resulted in a 4.5% sales uplift from US shoppers.

Fellow Arcadia menswear retailer Burton has also worked with Qubit in the last six months to trial a weather-specific content box on its homepage. This trial involved a tile on the homepage showing shoppers their local weather and directing them to weather-appropriate products. The trial resulted in an 11.6% uplift in conversions.

LK Bennett also implemented a system whereby returning shoppers abandoning their baskets were sent an offer for free delivery. After implementing this test last year, LK Bennett experienced an 11% increase in conversions.

Will Dymott, head of data and customer relationship management at ecommerce consultancy Practicology, believes: “Personalisation is so important as service is the new battleground for customer loyalty online and customers are now expecting to see it.”

He recommends retailers work towards a “one-to-one relationship with their customers” online to improve loyalty and sales conversion, but stresses personalisation is not just important for larger retailers and can be easier to achieve for smaller, less complex companies. He suggested retailers start testing personalisation via email communications to ensure it suits their customers before developing it for their homepages, while many existing ecommerce platforms, such as Demandware, Hybris and Magento, offer personalisation tools that can be turned on or additional plug-ins.

He says retailers should initially focus on: directing returning customers to new-in product; directing shoppers whose gender is known to their specific area of the site; ensuring IP addresses are recognised so if someone logs in internationally they are given the relevant currencies and delivery options; and encouraging new customers to sign up to email marketing.

He adds the future for personalisation will be multichannel, with in-store beacons enabling shop assistants to pick up shoppers’ purchase histories and profiles as they walk in so that they can be offered a better service.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Improving conversion rates by 60% sounds great, however if the rate is around 1% to start with, benefits are marginal.

    We (No Place Like Holm) recently trialled our software with an etailer and reduced their returns rate from 28% down to 10.2%.

    That's a reduction of more than 60% and an actual 17.8% point improvement. We improved average basket spend too.

    What's more, we've designed it to work in store, where 80% of clothing sales still occur. We believe 'getting personal' should start in store. We expect to have initial results by end of Q2.

    Thereafter evidencing how it multiplies impact to online sales. We still seek a few more retailers to test with.

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  • natalie bruins

    In an age where brands are competing on service – providing a great personalised experience is essential. Plus, the personal touch can also be one of the only ways to get through to today’s distracted consumer.

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