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Multichannel: It’s getting personal

Retailers are recognising that creating a more personalised experience for shoppers will not only improve user satisfaction but also increase sales.

Imagine you’re browsing your favourite fashion website. Every page, from the home page to the product galleries, has
a selection of specially curated clothes and outfits - including your favourite styles, brands and colours. And while
you are browsing through collections from your top designers, another user will, at the same time, experience a very different version of the site that’s in tune with their own style.

This is where those working in ecommerce believe the future of online shopping lies.

Darren Vengroff, chief scientist for retail personalisation firm RichRelevance, says: “A more personalised experience helps shoppers find the products they are looking for, which leads to more sales. When done right, personalisation provides a new mechanism for browsing the site, in addition to category browsing and search, that does a better job of getting shoppers to the content they are looking for quickly and easily.”

Retailers have long been able to categorise people by segmenting customer data. But as technology evolves, retailers are drilling down to discover just who their customers are, not by groups but individually, to deliver a more targeted web experience.

Menswear retailer Burton has moved from showing the design teams’ style suggestions to providing recommendations based on what the user has been viewing on the site combined with data on what other shoppers have bought.

“While a lookbook might style a customer with skinny jeans, that customer might have shown no interest in skinny jeans,” says Burton head of ecommerce Richard Wilson. “We’ve seen a higher conversion rate with this way of recommending products. They’re going through a considered journey that makes sense to them really quickly
and are willing to convert rather than go back to square one because nothing is stimulating them.”

Similarly, shirt retailer Charles Tyrwhitt offers shoppers personalised recommendations on products that complement their desired purchase. It has led to a growth in sales, with average order values up 36% in the first half of 2012.

Roger Doddy, director of multichannel at personalisation specialist Peerius, says the technology has the ability to track and build a profile about every visitor that browses a retailer’s site, from what they look at, the pages they view and the routes they take. “It’s also able to understand patterns of behaviour,” he explains.

“It can see that a person is looking at a black top then looking at a blue top, so if it sees a pattern it knows that is important.” This also means that returning customers can be targeted with particular brands they’ve shown a past interest in.

The personalisation of websites connects the consumer more with the retailer, leading to more brand affinity, says Doddy. “It’s losing the idea that everybody sees the same site; they see versions of the same site. Product images and banners are all changed according to what is known about you. What’s happening in the background drives to make the experience as relevant to you as an individual as possible.”

Charles Tyrwhitt head of web development and trading Jennie Blythe agrees, adding that offering recommendations gives the customer a more bespoke experience: “Across the industry there’s
a move towards behavioural targeting and personalisation. It’s clear there are good business opportunities [behind this technology].”

At Shop Direct, personalisation is one of its biggest strategies - so big, in fact, that the group has set up a team devoted to personalisation, headed by Jon Owen, retail director for Shop Direct brand Very. “We’re working on the ability to fundamentally change the customer experience,” says Owen. “The potential is absolutely huge.”

The home shopping group intends to use contextual information, such as time of day, location of a user and what device they’re on, to target shoppers. Beyond that, it has plans to personalise the on-site experience further.

“When a customer comes and searches for dresses, everyone who does that essentially sees the same gallery page of dresses,” says Owen. “What we can start to do in some obvious ways is to personalise that experience. So, based on historical data and browsing history, we can give them a more relevant experience even at the home page level, where we can vary content depending on categories previously browsed.”

He also believes any area of the site could be personalised, such as payment and delivery options. Blythe agrees, adding that the retailer might look to personalise content. “We could test overt personalisation such as ‘Hello Jenny, here’s a white shirt’ or more covert preferences,” she says.

But retailers should be wary of being too forceful - sometimes targeting can be so explicit it can turn off the shopper.

Who hasn’t been bombarded with ads of products they’ve clicked on before - and are no longer interested in - as they browse the web?

For some retailers, targeting customers online does not make business sense just yet.

One ecommerce head for a young fashion brand says while it offers email abandonment follow ups, it’s unsure if there’s a business case for on-site personalisation: “We are quite far away from that. To get proper data we need multiple visits from the same people and we don’t get that. The way we run the business is different because we’re a wholesale business [as well as retail] so we use it as a showcase to put everything on there straight away, so it’s partly used as a shop window for indies.”

For retailers interested in personalisation, the future options are endless. Vengroff says: “Personalisation in commerce has been around since long before the internet. Getting to know customer preferences and using them to help customers find interesting products is something good sales clerks mastered centuries ago. We’re just bringing it into the digital age. But you have to deliver value when you do so.”

Wilson sees an opportunity with social plug-ins, which will offer retailers more detailed information on what a user is interested in, from the pages they ‘like’ on Facebook to the brands they follow on Twitter. “That brings an immediate understanding of what they’re into and can lead to more personalisation because it’s so current for that particular user,” he says.

Cleverly curated websites may be a few years away, but as more data becomes available and retailers further utilise it, a more personalised web experience will lead to more satisfied customers with larger shopping baskets.

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