For Personalization Success this Holiday Season, Unwrap the Gift of Data.

August 16, 2018
 

There’s no time like the holidays to prove the time- and money-saving potential of omnichannel personalization. To achieve optimal results, merchants should feed the right data into their eCommerce personalization engines now to drive accurate real-time recommendations during the peak season.

With so many products and offers crowding online search results and email inboxes, shoppers increasingly acknowledge the potential benefits of personalization. Some 83% of consumers say they’re willing to share data in order to enable a personalized experience, while 91% say they’re more likely to shop with brands that recognize them and provide relevant offers, according to global strategy firm Accenture.

91% of consumers say they’re more likely to shop with brands that recognize them and provide relevant offers.

But the key word, so far, is “potential.” While shoppers yearn for apt recommendations and individualized offers, many personalization attempts miss the mark as retailers struggle to wrangle data into relevant real-time experiences. Fully 48% of shoppers in the Accenture study reported leaving a business’ Web site because of poorly curated offerings, and technology researcher Forrester found that while 90% of retailers say they prioritize personalization, just 40% of consumers report receiving relevant products and offers.

The holidays complicate personalization efforts further because even shoppers who’ve logged multiple interactions with brands often switch behaviors and interests when shopping for gifts for other people. And merchants who’ve yet to create unified customer profiles that incorporate online, mobile, and in-store interactions are at a further disadvantage during the holidays, when online-to-offline activity surges as shoppers research and locate gifts online for purchase in stores.

To overcome these challenges, merchants should begin now to step up data-gathering efforts in an effort to “train” the machine learning algorithms how to predict likely shopping preferences before the season begins. In addition to processing current eCommerce and mobile site data, merchants can run analyses on last year’s holiday activity to increase the likelihood of upcoming peak-season relevance. Among the data sets to glean:

Product pairings and groupings for gift sets. Gift buyers gravitate toward samplers and sets, so merchants should use recommendation engines to surface unique combinations of products that are frequently bought together yet might not typically show up in automated cross-sell or upsell picks. They can then use real-time personalization to tailor pairings or collection recommendations based on cues about preferred price points, brands, or colors.  

Holiday-centric customer segments. While segmentation is considered passé in the era of real-time personalization, customer segments are, in fact, a useful data point for recommendations and offers. And during the holidays, groupings such as loyalty club members, year-round versus once-a-year buyers, and online-only versus omnichannel users can help hone experiences significantly.

Gift-giving cues. While it can be difficult to determine whether purchases are for customers themselves or for others, some purchases can be flagged as likely gift picks – especially when analyzing past holiday data. They include:

  • Items not in shoppers’ typical size, gender, or price range
  • Items shipped to other names and addresses stored in customers’ address books
  • Items purchased using gift cards
  • Items purchased in orders that also include gift cards
  • Products saved to wish lists
  • Items shared or favorited socially

Online/offline usage. Merchants should do their utmost to understand shoppers’ store usage patterns, whether by knitting together online and offline interactions in a unified customer profile or by outright asking online shoppers to choose a store near them. Such localized information can then be used to inform real-time inventory information and back-in-stock alerts during the peak season.

Mobile search. More than half of all traffic to retail Web sites came from mobile devices during the 2017 holiday season, according to Adobe, so merchants should prepare for this year accordingly – including honing mobile search with personalized recommendations and suggested keyword terms. Search is especially important on mobile devices both because the smaller screen size is more suited to focused searching versus browsing, and because shoppers are likely to use mobile devices to hunt for items on the go, whether while between store visits or from within the store aisles. Search usage can also spike during the holidays when shoppers visit new sites at the behest of recipients who’ve requested specific items. Intelligent search can help these first-time visitors connect to the right products faster.

Explicitly-collected data. Given that shoppers are willing to share information with brands in the hopes of receiving relevant picks, merchants can devise opportunities to collect holiday information up front. Merchants can do this in the form of holiday surveys or sweepstakes responses, via gift guide customization tools that collect information on recipients and givers to make gift picks, or even in brief questionnaires attached to email signup forms.

Regardless of which information merchants feed their personalization platforms, they should test – and retest – the results as manifested in personalized eCommerce site, email, and mobile features. Asking friends and family to form ad-hoc test groups can give merchants valuable feedback on how personalization features work outside the office and over time.

How are you boosting personalization effectiveness for the holidays?