The 13th annual Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, better known as IRCE, was last week, and personalization was the dominant theme. Not only do merchants recognize the brand differentiation potential of one-to-one relevance, but they’re making personalization a reality — often based on data that’s readily available.
From the bevy of vendors promising “AI-powered personalization” in their toolsets, to the speakers discussing innovative uses of data to deliver one-to-one shopping experiences, to the conversations we had at the Kibo booth, it’s clear that merchants are making personalization a priority.
One big reason why, as articulated throughout the conference: the increasing dominance of Amazon.com. In his address as part of an “Amazon & Me” workshop, Scott Wingo of ChannelAdvisor noted that Amazon accounted for fully 53% of all eCommerce growth in 2016. He also revealed a chart showing the “AmazonScape” of the more than 200 public-facing programs Amazon offers — demonstrating Amazon’s omnipresence and influence on consumer expectations.
Personalization’s ability to meet consumers’ specific needs in the moment is one way merchants can counter the dominance of a mass merchant selling everything, but specializing in nothing. In a study cited by eMarketer, the BCG Group predicts that fully $800 billion is set to shift toward merchants who deploy personalization effectively.
The happy news from IRCE is that more and more merchants are hitting their stride — and not always due to prohibitively complex big-data implementations. Conference speakers demonstrated that simplicity could be effective, and much of the information merchants need to deliver relevant experiences is readily available. Among the winning tactics on display:
Tailor eCommerce site content to the stage of the customer lifecycle.
Merchants should use analytics to understand how new visitors, returning visitors, and customers move through the eCommerce site, and adapt content at crucial decision points accordingly.
At IRCE, Kibo merchant Zoro.com detailed how product detail pages, which serve as entry points for 80% of the B2B distributor’s search traffic, could adapt in real time based on whether the visitor was new or returning, with more attractive pricing potentially served to loyalists. For existing buyers who largely enter the site via the homepage, Zoro.com facilitates re-orders by displaying previously-purchased products and previously-viewed items prominently. Below, returning visitors who previously searched disposable gloves see a mix of personal protection products in the home page carousel.
Navigation for existing customers also adapts to prioritize categories previously browsed and bought. The personalization features have produced a 10% lift in sales so far, with further implementations on the horizon.
Use implicit and explicit information to drive relevance.
Merchants can also derive valuable data from the context of shoppers’ actions. Greg Zakowicz, analyst for Kibo partner Bronto, showed how taking into account the location within the eCommerce site where shoppers opted to sign up for email promotions could inform the products and offers within welcome email messages — for example, by serving only products for women to those who signed up from within women’s categories on an apparel site. Similarly, tracking which email content attracted subscribers’ clicks could then be used to inform the array of items offered in subsequent campaigns, Zakowicz said.
Of course, merchants can also solicit such information explicitly, as Kibo merchant Armani Exchange does in its modal email signup window. And more elaborate content can further unlock data riches: While not every merchant can or should build their businesses around personalized shipments like KidBox (for children’s toys) or Stitchfix or Trunk Club (for apparel), the practice of using a detailed profile builder or questionnaire to gauge shopping preferences is one many sellers can emulate.
Interactive buying guides, quizzes, or design tools that spur shoppers to volunteer information about their shopping quests can yield detailed data to shape the subsequent online experience — from displaying only apparel items in the right size in search results to prioritizing product categories that match shoppers’ preferences.
Create apps with real-life utility that accrue rich data.
As a corollary, merchants should think beyond merely streamlined shopping when considering mobile app development. Instead, sellers should consider tools that align with their audience’s lifestyle and goals and that provide solutions above and beyond making purchases.
Such apps not only demonstrate that the merchant brand has a deep understanding of their audience’s needs; they’re also likely to be used more often than a pure shopping app. And merchants gain access to a wealth of data that can subsequently inform personalized content, products, and offers.
IRCE keynote merchant Under Armour is a case in point. Via its dozens of fitness mapping apps, the athletic apparel and equipment manufacturer gains credibility as the definitive platform for a community of fitness enthusiasts — and reaps insights into its audience’s priorities. While the apps aren’t related to shopping per se, Under Armour can use profile data to act as a “digital concierge,” helping address users’ needs in the moment with relevant products and offers.
“Brick mine” the in-store experience.
Merchants with physical outlets have yet another trove of information to inform personalization efforts — activity within store locations themselves. IRCE presenters pointed to formerly online-exclusive brands such as Warby Parker — and, yes, Amazon — that have now branched out into bricks-and-mortar retail partly for the information-gathering potential stores represent. Retailers should take advantage of the opportunity to interact face-to-face with shoppers and build rich behavioral profiles.
Fabletics is an extreme example; the online-first apparel manufacturer uses its retail outlets to track consumer behavior so closely, even items shoppers take to the dressing room to try are scanned and added to their profiles, as IRCE attendees learned. But every retail merchant can use a mobile point-of-sale tool to unite store selections with previous online activity and gather product feedback.
What were your top IRCE takeaways, and which sessions were most valuable?