What "Personalization" Really Means to Commerce

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
A mix of strategies and data inputs is necessary to achieving personalization nirvana.

For years personalization has been tossed around as one the most overused and misunderstood terms in commerce. And, sadly, the promise of personalization has not been fully realized by many. We must understand what "personalization" really means. Simply put, personalization is delivering the most targeted content (such as products, videos, reviews, or promotions) to the right customer at every point in their journey, based on their unique needs and preferences. To achieve this, we must know as much as possible about every customer and have the right technology to deliver. Personalization is not just about a single system delivering a piece of content to a user, it's about capturing the right data, analyzing it, and having the algorithms and delivery engine in place to power dynamic experiences to all, across their paths. That's why it's tough to pull off.

So where do you start to get personalization right? There are two foundational areas you need to have a handle on to achieve scalable personalization: product data and customer data. Customer data is critical in terms of knowing your shoppers - and this starts with building out their profiles. This can include knowing what sort of products they have bought, specific demographics, their brand affinities, if they are a bargain shopper (or not), and more.

If yours is like most commerce organizations, you don't have complete (or any) data of the vast majority of shoppers. New customers are the lifeblood of online storefronts, but building out profiles for every one can prove to be a near impossible task. The good news is that in addition to commerce platforms that can automatically collect this data, there are new ways to round out your customer information beyond how they interact with your site.

Social data is a great way to take personalization to the next level and Facebook is the easiest, but certainly not the only place to start. Facebook has loads of free, accessible information on their users such as demographics, even brands they like and their comments on products. Enrich product information and merchandising efforts by capturing Likes and user comments from the Social Graph. If appropriate for your business, get customers to log in with their Facebook account to leverage information to round-out user profiles and segments housed in your commerce platform.

While segments and personas help simplify the definition and delivery of tailored experiences, the reality is that no two members of the same segment have identical needs. This is why having scalable technology in place to deliver dynamic experiences that adapt to every visitor - anonymous or loyalist - is critical. With a solid base of customer profile information, segment information and rich, well-attributed product information, the next step is having the right technology in place to put this data and content into action.

The delivery of personalized experiences can be done in a combination of different ways, with a few key systems and strategies working in tandem. Leveraging profile data at run-time in the user experience can start as part of the search and navigation experience through elements of a user's profile (or their anonymous behavior) to boost certain products to the top of the result set or trigger a product or content spotlight based on the search term, navigation refinement, or customer attribute information.

As the shopper gets deeper into the site, personalization can be driven through a rules engine in the commerce platform to define and promote products based on your rich customer and product data. A recommendations engine, or behavioral targeting techniques, can also be used to dynamically spotlight targeted content or products based on the user's context and path.

The key to true personalization is layering multiple personalization strategies to reach the entire spectrum of users, including adapting to an anonymous user based on their real-time behavior and also delivering a tailored homepage through the check-out experience for your loyalists based on their known unique preferences. Very little can be predicted about what a customer wants ahead of time. That's why a mix of strategies and data inputs is necessary to achieving personalization nirvana.

With today's connected consumers, you must have a consistent experience across channels - your customers won't accept anything less.And not just on the web and mobile, but should include the full customer experience lifecycle and interactions across touch points, including the service and support experience. Organizations that take a cross-organization approach with the right data and technology in place will (finally) reap the rewards of the long-awaited promise of personalization.