Shopping online can feel a bit impersonal. It's all about looking at screens and filling virtual carts, and not so much about having a rich experience. Many consumers long for just that kind of experience -- one that's similar to walking into a store, looking at products, talking with an associate, and perhaps ultimately making a purchase.
With the goal of delivering an online shopping experience that's at least as interactive as a bricks-and-mortar one, this is where e-commerce personalization technologies come in.
Following are five strategies for providing the personalized experience online shoppers crave.
1. Learn About Your Customers
Understanding your clientele seems pretty basic, but it's sometimes forgotten when designing online shopping experiences. It implies utilizing all digital means available to track, research, and interpret the desires and behavior of people who might buy from you.
"Businesses need to dig into their digital audiences," said Burek.
"This effort entails understanding how behavioral and contextual attributes differ among different segments of their audience, as well as how different demographics of consumers impact the business' bottom line differently," he explained.
"Leveraging machine learning technologies, businesses can efficiently take in this data and extract insights, examine trends, and understand how customer experience strategies truly impact their business," Burek said.
2. Conduct Experiments
You won't know exactly what will work -- and when -- for your customers until you try things out. Experiment with a variety of approaches to see which ones are most effective in delivering the kind of shopping experience your customers want.
"Once brands have a better understanding of who their customers are and a basic background on what they're interested in, the next step is deploying targeted experiments," suggested Burek.
"Specifically, by putting out different 'tests' across the audience segments, businesses can see how customers react -- and, most importantly, whether the experiment drives conversions," he said.
Be flexible, since as your customers change, your personalizing strategies will need to change as well, Burek advised.
3. Think Omnichannel
In an online space, personalization means being wherever the customers are -- and using whatever technologies they're using. Consider using a variety of technologies -- live chat, social media and chatbots, for example -- to make sure you're always there, always available, and always ready to engage.
"Traditional CRM systems are being augmented or replaced with more intelligent omnichannel engagement solutions that provide everything from live chat to social support, to artificial intelligence tools like chatbots," said Dave Campbell, vice president of product marketing, customer engagement and support with LogMeIn.
"Each of these is effective in their own right when it comes to e-commerce -- or any industry, for that matter," he told the E-Commerce Times. "It's all about being where your customer is."
An omnichannel approach is also effective when resolving problems that shoppers might encounter.
It's not just about "being available through that channel," said Campbell, "but also being able to resolve issues there as well. The relevancy of any channel is based around whether customers can quickly get what they are looking for by using them."
4. Tailor the Experience
Tailored recommendations can be a key component of a personalized e-commerce strategy. It's the e-commerce version of a sales associate suggesting a customer try a particular product -- and when done well, it can make a shopper's experience feel genuinely personal.
"One of the most important technologies retailers can incorporate into their digital properties is data analytics," said SiteSpect's Burek.
"By strategically placing this technology within the flow of traffic, etailers will be able to gain a real-time picture of who their shoppers are and how they interact with the website, mobile app, or other digital property," he pointed out.
"From here, businesses are presented with actionable insights that can be used to personalize the customer experience with smart, tailored recommendations -- understanding preferences and anticipating needs to drive sales and loyalty," Burek added.
5. Be Chatty
Chatbots have become more intelligent, predictive and effective in recent years, and many e-commerce businesses find that they drive sales and give customers a sense of connectedness with the companies they're buying from.
"Chatbots are an attractive option for today's socially empowered customers who prefer one-stop online shopping experiences," said Gordon White, general manager of The Social Client.
"Chatbots, powered through social media platforms like Facebook Messenger, allow consumers to browse, pay for items, and share their favorite finds and purchases with friends without having to leave the Facebook app," he told the E-Commerce Times.
Live chat also can be an important component of a personalized shopping experience.
"Live chats with human agents are a great option for customers who need a little more handholding during their online shopping experience, or for those customers with more complex questions," said White.
"While there is no denying that AI has made tools like chatbots and messaging apps more sophisticated and dynamic than ever before," he noted, "there is still a learning curve when it comes to providing an authentic and empathic human touch, which is where live agents step in.