This month at Latitude, one of our big topics of discussions has been personalisation on the web; how it helps or hinders us, whether we think it is a positive or negative thing for marketers (and customers) and best practice.
But first things first – how do we define personalisation? According to Adobe personalisation means “creating customer experiences, or interactions, that are relevant, unique, and convenient in order to build a mutually beneficial relationship between customer and business or between businesses.”
In other words, altering the content you show to a user in order to make it more relevant to them.
When it comes to marketing retail sites, it’s easy to see why personalisation can be beneficial to both users and the brand. If you show a user content which is more suited to them, they will most likely stay on your site longer, and will be more likely to purchase. This is mutually beneficial as the whole purpose of a retail company is to generate conversion from their customers.
This is certainly something which is being picked up on by retailers in 2014. The 2014 Digital trends briefing published by Econsultancy found that “targeting and personalisation is seen by B2C respondents as the top digital related priority for the year ahead.”
Certainly at Latitude, personalisation of marketing for retail and personalisation of retail sites is something we recommend to our clients where applicable. For example, we often advise displaying different ad text to returning customers than the ad text you would display to a new one. If we were to suggest making edits to a web page for conversion rate optimisation, this would likely include ideas such as cross selling other related products on the site, or displaying recently viewed items to the user at check out in order to encourage more sales as shown here by ASOS:
ASOS announced earlier this year that they were planning to ramp up search capabilities to include personalised results. They suggested that customers who use search on site are 30% more likely to buy something than those who find their own way around the site. We will soon see personalised products coming out of their search results, altering according to a customer’s browsing history and personal information like size.
However, are there any downsides to personalisation? How much is too much?
What to Avoid
If we look at the above example of ASOS tailoring search results by information such as size, what happens if a customer goes up or down a few sizes in between browsing on ASOS? Or what if more than one person uses the same browser and computer to search the same site? Would you be happy if as a size 10, you are constantly seeing size 6 items in your search results? Or as a 35 year old mother, you are being shown items based on the browsing history of your 13 year old daughter?
Eli Pariser gave a fantastic Ted talk on “Filter bubbles”. A filter bubble can occur when we only get exposed to information on the Internet that a company or website has deemed is relevant to us. This therefore means there is a lot of information that we may want to view, but we are not being exposed to. The majority of personalisation is not by choice.
Is it possible in retail that by suggesting certain items to our customers, we are limiting their choice and perhaps even discouraging them from purchasing?
It can’t be denied that some level of personalisation is a positive thing, but it can be difficult to decide where to draw the line. As with anything in marketing, the solution will probably come down to testing to understand where the ‘sweet spot’ for your audience.
Where to Start
The best advice I have found on the subject so far comes from this e-consultancy blog post as it shows us how companies can start with the general stuff and then get right down into some serious personalisation. Here it is in a nutshell:
1. Start small by doing things that don’t involve third party software
For example, amend a small part of the site based on easily available info such as IP address for customer location.
2. Ask your customers questions in order to personalise your mass marketing
Asking for simple info such as gender, age or even interest means you can tailor the emails you send to this customer to be more relevant.
3. Automated personalisation using development on site
For example, personalised search based on users previous behaviour or general user behaviour such as the ASOS example above.
4. Real-time marketing personalisation
This involves customising ad content based on individual users. The example in the above blog showed how Waitrose advertise their online shopping service showed specific display ads to users within radiuses of their stores, and the content of those ads can even display specific offers that the users has previously looked at on their site.
5. Seamless personalisation across web and marketing channels
The holy grail of marketing, this involves having a highly evolved integrated data source in order to create a single customer view, so that you are inhibiting your marketing messages to customers based on what you already know about that persons interactions with your company. As far as we are aware, this has yet to be seen on any large scale.