Ebay, Neiman Marcus Stress Personalized Experiences

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The predominant philosophy during the early days of e-commerce was eyeballs equal dollar signs. Get more consumers to visit your site and sales will climb. But that's not enough anymore. Now online merchants are turning to personalization strategies to help increase conversion rates as they serve a more demanding, multichannel shopper.

Personalization, user experience, and customer centricity were all recurring themes at the recent eTail 2007 Conference in Washington, D.C. Many leading e-commerce players attending the conference said that to make the shopping experience more relevant to a visitor's preferences, they are tailoring their customer strategies to address core customer "personas" or buyer segments.

eBay gets personal

The most dramatic example of the personalization trend came from
eBay, which announced plans to change the way it serves up its home pages to visitors. In his presentation, Jamie Iannone, eBay's vice president of buying experience, said the company will begin "over the next few weeks" to customize the home page users see based on their past activity.

In addition to a graphical overhaul, Iannone explained that the new home page is designed for easier access to My eBay pages, as well as speedier access to favorite searches. "We have been testing dozens of different configurations in terms of merchandising assortments and category structures. The goal is that each eBay home page will be as unique as each member," Iannone said.
He pointed out that customer personas could be defined in a variety of ways, based on self-identification, past purchases, or by using other behavioral data. For eBay's new home page makeover, he said, the company has segmented "personas" into such categories as "shopping-driven passionates," "convenience-driven enthusiasts" and "price-driven shoppers."



Tailored merchandise

Personalization is also a priority at
Neiman Marcus Direct. The upscale merchant is testing the use of specific home page designs based on a user's past purchases or traffic patterns. "We are always trying to do different things for different customers, and the online environment really allows you to experiment," Lindy Rawlinson, vice president of Web store and new business, told the audience. "It is inherently easier to do A/B testing with an online store than in a physical store, so we are always trying new things. We are trying to find optimal layouts and determine the right placement for certain merchandise."

Since the company has a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations to spotlight in its top banners-38 Neiman Marcus stores and only two Bergdorf Goodman locations-Rawlinson said the company is focused on mirroring the shopping experience across channels. "Our stores are legendary for the excellent service of our associates, so a personalized experience on our e-commerce site is
a natural extension. We really want to bring our store experience online," she said. "For us, personalization is not just about recommending products, but really guiding the visitor through the store experience. Our goal is to make these changes very subtle so the users won't really see any change, but their trip will be more productive and enjoyable."

For those merchants that have grown out of a brick-and-mortar base, the Web can provide customers with a personalized menu of hard-to-find items. Maureen Daney, vice president of e-commerce at
Charming Shoppes, explained that the apparel retailer now offers an online ordering service for items customers can't find in the store. "We are starting to use that information for our demand
planning because we have a better handle on what the store didn't have available and the demand they may have missed out on," Daney said.

These retailers hope to advance the relationships they have with their customers online, and bring the intimacy of the in-store experience to the Web. And with today's competition as fierce as ever, these companies are banking that a little personalization can go a long way.


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