Making Online Shopping Personal

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“Give the lady what she wants.”

That’s the mantra that made Marshall Field famous.

For years, customers associated this high level of personalized shopping with iconic brick and mortar stores such as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdales. Today, customers are beginning to find the same customized shopping experience at their favorite online stores as well.

The growth of online mega retailers, which offer an enormous range of inventory to a diverse consumer base, further increases the need for stores to personalize the online shopping experience.

A better shopping experience helps support a retailer’s ultimate goal: to maximize a customer’s lifetime value. Now we have the data-driven tools to do this with personalized product recommendations, shopping cart abandonment, and targeted emails.

Personalized Product Recommendations 

Amazon was one of the first stores to offer customers product recommendations based on past purchase history. Historically, these recommendations led to over 30 percent of the company’s revenue.

More recently, Amazon announced a partnership with Facebook in which users can link their accounts to receive even more personalized recommendations based on their interests and activity. Users can easily create and send their own gift wish lists to family and friends.

Shopping Cart Abandonment

Complex algorithms can be used to predict which items consumers are most likely to purchase, but most retailers often overlook an easier solution: look at what users put in their carts.

It’s not just a customer’s purchase history that’s important, but the history of what they didn’t purchase. You can learn a lot from that, especially those things they almost bought.


Remind the user of the abandoned items, and potentially sweeten the deal.  The subscriber obviously has an eye on this item, why let a fish off the hook when the bait has clearly been set?

Target the subscriber with a service-based message as soon as an abandoned shopping cart is detected. The service-based message should consist of a recommendation of a substitute product or, even better, bundle a new offer with the item from the abandoned shopping cart. For abandoned cart recommendations to be most useful, timeliness is essential.

Personalized Emails

Finally, and this is where many retailers make fatal errors, you have to personalize email recommendations. As an alternative to weekly newsletters to highlight products, instead try to target specific consumers with a particular product, brand or category. In addition, avoid the trap of selling to your subscriber outside of what your data tells you; focus on what the consumer has shown a history of wanting. If an email recipient has shown a strong affinity towards certain brands or price levels; refine the recommendations around these data attributes. A recommendation email that lacks a personal connection will also lack a conversion to a sale.

Looking Ahead

With studies suggesting that online sales are increasing at a rate roughly 10 times that of brick and mortar stores, it’s critical that online retailers stay ahead of the curve. Retailers should be able to meet a consumer’s changing demands – from short-lived fads to changes that come from a consumer’s lifecycle changes.

Changes in demands and life cycles can be deduced from past purchase history and pairing customer information (such as name and email) with 3rd party research firms.  In the future, retailers should be proactive in reaching out to current and potential customers.

Luckily, with widely available tools for online retailers, “giving the lady what she wants” is possible for online retailers large and small.

The SimpleRelevance Solution

SimpleRelevance has the tools that can optimize abandoned shopping carts and convert them into sales. SimpleRelevance employs a three-prong approach which includes branded email templates that have been automatically customized with the company’s logo; automatic creation and delivery of personalized emails sent to each consumer at the optimal time of the day; and optimized messaging that sends the right email at the precisely right time. The personalization technology tool optimizes your email’s subject line, content, and delivery time.

About the Author

Erik+S.Erik Severinghaus is the founder and CEO of SimpleRelevance, a Chicago-based company leading the way on developing next generation tools to help companies personalize digital communication. Prior to that he received a patent while in IBM’s IT Optimization organization, and helped co-found iContact—a leading Email Service Provider. Follow him on Twitter.






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