Tips to make online retail personal

Do online retailers really know more about customer behaviour?

By Rhian Harris

The truth is that discount and price promotions are the reality for most retailers in today’s economic conditions, so doing retail well and putting on a great experience is the only way to differentiate.

If online retailers want to beat their competitors without cutting prices, they need to use the wealth of data at their fingertips to give their customers an experience they are willing to pay a premium for.

Really looking at what customers are doing on a website, and using that information to divine what they’re looking for, when and why, is the only way they will build a truly personal experience.

“Can I help you?”

Imagine… you walk into a shop with blaring music, shouty discount signs, and stuff everywhere. You will immediately form an opinion of the quality of product or service you are going to get, and the same goes for websites.

In a physical store, the shop assistant greets, speaks to, and helps the customer find what they are looking for. They also try to up-sell and cross-sell, and depending on the brand approach offer the shopper a smile and personal experience. This local knowledge can also be used to inform stock decisions and visual merchandising so that the store is optimised.

Think about it… The shop assistant’s online equivalent is the data analyst; someone who can capture, analyse and understand customer interactions to identify customer needs.

So similar to stores where staff use human instinct, online retailers can datamine to shape customer experience.

For example:

  • If patterns of behaviour indicate a price sensitive customer, you can present appropriate offer creative.
  • If your previous interactions with a customer indicate that they like a certain style or product category, you can tailor your home page to accentuate those attributes.

In this way, online retailers can create the sort of differentiated and/or premium experience that retains a healthy margin, and still combat discounters.

The Apple store is designed to be personal but still play it ‘cool’. Customers realise the quality and when they hand over their email address, the brand already knows everything about their previous interactions.

“So what 3 things are key to this?”

  1. Don’t just track data and expect it to tell you something. Pointing to piles of data thinking you can understand customer behaviour is useless. Unless it is analysed and actioned, it’s just numbers. A/B and multivariate testing can be an effective way to action an optimum approach.
  2. Demonstrate the right brand values and USPs.¬†Creative that either doesn’t appeal to customers or doesn’t convey your brand image isn’t going to offer a great experience. Think about the blaring music and unstructured shop example. If chaotic design is appropriate, then use it. If it isn’t, optimise your style to suit.
  3. Don’t be annoying, but do offer help.¬†When used effectively, interruption methods can assist. Remember the shop assistant offering help? Think about live chat, feedback forms, exits surveys, follow-up review requests – but NOT all together!

Creating a differentiated and personalised experience can enable a margin model that will ensure survival in the cutthroat online retail market.

“Know your customer” is the oldest rule in the retail handbook, but it’s one that many online have yet to truly learn.

It’s time to lead the way…


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