Dear First Name, let’s do ecommerce personalisation better

30 October, 2014

The Coffee Marketing Personalisation ExpertsI recently moved offices. One of the most harrowing aspects of saying goodbye to my old digs was leaving behind my beloved favourite cafe.

Telling my barista (yes, she was MY barista) Gemma, that I would only be coming in for my small double latte when I was back in town for meetings was a heart-wrenching undertaking.

It was almost like a break up. There was no reason for us to separate. We both still loved each other. But long distance wouldn’t be fair on either of us. We’d have to settle for the occasional fling when I was back in town on business. All those memories (that pic was from a visit back to my old office a few weeks back – it was as delicious as it looks!).

My Old Cafe Was Personalised Perfection

It was time to move on. I quickly surveyed the options, it was going to come down to two.

Cafe One, a slick hipster haunt, dripping with rolled-up chino wearing, round-rimmed spectacle clad, fixed gear bicycle riding types to whom the right single origin coffee is worth waging war over. This place clearly knew their coffee.

Cafe Two, a quieter neighbourhood haunt, slipped into a little nook off the main street. The coffee – it was tasty. Just not as good as the hipster joint.

A couple of weeks in, I decided it was time to make the call and become exclusive.

I didn’t choose the cafe with the best coffee.


Personalisation is why.

Cafe One’s coffee was delicious. The food was just as good as Cafe Two, perhaps better. The prices were about the same.

The Mighty Coffee Personalization Battle

But after one week Cafe Two knew my order. After two weeks they knew my name. The barista, Matt, knows that I’ll probably want lunch if I’m in around 12. If I’m on to my second, Matt double checks to see if I want a double shot – sometimes I need to be asleep before midnight! They always bring me a glass of water. Always. Once, they even kept the store open 15 minutes longer to fix me up a takeaway.

Cafe One never once remembered my order.

My decision? It was a no brainer.

Why Personalisation Matters.

I sit in the same place by the window of Cafe Two on a stool that looks out over the street. It’s a killer writing spot. A couple of weeks ago I walked in and the owner was sitting in my writing seat working on some figures. As soon as he looked up, he picked up his things and moved to another table. I told him not to worry. He said it was fine.

I thought nothing of it really. But when I sat down to write this post I was trying to think of some examples to prove that personalisation matters. This thought popped into my mind. I realise that’s why I chose Cafe Two.

Cafe Two got to know me. They came to care about me. They took all of their knowledge and used it to make my experience with their brand the best it could possibly be, specific to my needs. That’s why I chose Cafe Two.

We love special treatment. We love it when people care. We love personalised service.

In a store, personalisation is easier. You can speak to your customer. You can develop a relationship. The next time they visit, you’ll have a better idea of what they might like. You can tailor your service to suit their needs.

Ecommerce is different. But personalisation still matters.

If you can show your customer that you care, you can build that long term relationship.

  • It’s not just about sending a customer an email with their name in the subject line. It’s about sending a customer an email with the right information at the right time to help them improve their lives.
  • It’s not just about prompting a customer who has just purchased a circular saw to browse your timber products. It’s about offering your customer a series of how-to guides on safely operating the tool and sending through a ebook each month of different DIY household projects with step by step instructions to.

Personalisation is hard. Our bosses want sales. Now.

Anything to improve conversion rates, minimise expenditure and boost revenues. Getting buy in for data analysis, marketing automation systems or content marketing programs used to be the equivalent of telling your dad you want to become an actor. It’s possible. If it comes off it’s amazing. But you know you’ll get yourself verbally abused out of the room for suggesting it.

Now, there’s no excuse. Relatively inexpensive software is available. We can’t even utilise most of the analytics capabilities of our CRM, let alone Google. Intelligent automated email marketing systems make personalised marketing so much easier. But personalisation is still a confounding prospect for many ecommerce stores.

Three ecommerce stores doing personalisation right

There are a myriad of pioneers showing the rest of the online world how personalised online sales is done. here’s three of the best to spark you up some envy and inspiration.

  • Amazon are famous for their recommendations algorithm which somehow knows that you are in fact interested in purchasing the latest Tim Winton novel even though you just bought a set of seemingly unrelated kitchen knives. How do they do it? Data, smart people, lots of money and algorithms.

Amazons Personalised Marketing

  • Outdoors e-retailer REI has compiled a mountain of content to support users through every step of their purchase journey. Personalisation doesn’t necessarily require complex workflows and micro-segmentation. If you provide highly targeted, super specific content for all different types of customers, you can still give your buyer a personalised experience. REI shine the light on the path to purchase, leading the customer through progressively more advanced educational content to prove they care about each individual’s needs. You can read about their niche ecommerce content marketing program here.

Rei Ecommerce Content Marketing Personalisation

  • Netflix have revolutionised TV advertising with their personalised content marketing techniques. For so long broadcast media has forced the mainstreamed masses into playing by their rules. All of a sudden, Netflix allows people to consume whatever entertainment they want, exactly when they want it. If you miss a show on television, you need to record it and fast forward through the ads. With Netflix, forget about it. You can watch 13 episodes of House of Cards back to back from 2 am if a sudden bout of insomnia strikes. To top it off, Netflix is online. So they have data. Lots of it. If you’ve watched the last two seasons of Modern Family, Netflix will email you to download season three. If you haven’t tuned in for a while you might get a suggestion to check out Portlandia because lots of other users enjoy both programs.

Netflix Ecommerce Email Marketing Personalisation

Why aren’t we using marketing personalisation?

It’s fascinating to look back on an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers industry report titled “ recommendations in item-to-item collaborative filtering“.

The report was published way back in 2003, exploring the findings of a company called Amazon and the ability of recommendation algorithms to develop more targeted and relevant marketing communications.

The report was co authored by Greg Linder – Cofounder and Senior Manager in the Personalisation Group. He designed and developed the famous Amazon reccommendation algorithm.

Amazon Marketing Personalization Report

In the report, the authors speculate that “in the future, we expect the retail industry to more broadly apply recommendation algorithms for targeted marketing, both online and offline.”

This was 2003. Eleven years later and personalisation is still a confounding concept for many ecommerce (and most offline) retailers.

What does ecommerce personalisation look like in 2014?

According to the 2013 Experian Email Marketing Study, as reported by, almost every company surveyed asked customers for personal data, but 70% did not personalise their marketing communications.

The same study showed the obvious benefits of personalisation, leaving us wondering why ‘Dear valued customer’ hasn’t become ‘Dear John’.

  • 29% higher unique open rates
  • 41% higher unique click rates
  • 26% higher unique open rates with a personalised subject line

A Global Retail Forecast from Rakuten – the world’s third largest ecommerce marketplace – predicted that 2014 would be the year that online retail truly realised the benefits of personalisation.

“Retailers recognise that shoppers are no longer satisfied by the vending machine model of the last decade; they want to be entertained and informed as they browse the web and make purchasing decisions.”

Unfortunately most of us are still dispensing Cokes to everyone.

The Coke Marketing Personalization Method

Are we deliberately avoiding ecommerce personalisation?

It seems likely. The technology is readily available at reasonable prices for even the smallest provider. Even free email marketing automation providers allow you to personalise a subject line.

Some marketers just refuse to believe their is a benefit to personalising ecommerce marketing. Amidst all of the evidence, something is holding the industry back.

According to a joint study by Econsultancy & Adobe, 63% of companies surveyed don’t have the ability to target personalised web content in real time & 27% disagree that it’s even important.

Is this the ecommerce equivalent of the Henry Ford mindset?

Build great products and the people will come. You can have any colour you like – as long as it’s black.

The Henry Ford Personalised Marketing Technique

It’s hard to believe that 1 in 4 ecommerce marketing pro’s are sceptical about the importance of tailoring each customer’s experience. If we have the data, the technology and the capabilities, why aren’t we using it?

This Adobe CMO article shows that technology is not a barrier. Data collection appears to be a breeze too. The Australian Ecommerce Study 2014 from Teradata of Australia’s top 50 ecommerce companies found 92 per cent send a regular email newsletter, but 76 per cent don’t deliver tailored marketing collateral to existing or potential customers. Most providers are sending at least one email newsletter per week.

The message to customers? We want you to keep buying stuff, but we don’t care enough to make the effort to give you a personalised experience.

Cart Abandonment provides a perfect example

Business Indisder reports an eye-bulging $US4 trillion worth of products and services will be abandoned in ecommerce shopping carts in 2014.

Maybe ecommerce stores need to follow Coles and Woolworths’ lead and make their customers slot a two dollar bitcoin in the online trolley.

Of course, personalisation is a much better answer to prevent these discarded carts being and strewn across the ecommerce wasteland.

According to BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s tech industry research service, about 63% of cart abandonment lost revenue is potentially recoverable by savvy online retailers.

Personalised cart abandonment emails and retargeting tools can help e-retailers give customers every chance to buy. These tactics can be used to improve the experience and help the consumer rather than interrupt and irritate.

Flickr Image Courtesy R. Nial Bradshaw

Are privacy concerns scaring off ecommerce stores from using personalisation?

Conversion Rate Optimisation specialists Invesp offer up a possible reason for the inexplicable dearth of personalised online shopping

“Ecommerce sites can’t take all the blame for the shortfall in personalised shopping. Online shoppers are notoriously protective of the sort of personal information required to personalise their shopping.”

Invesp smelt a rat on this one. In a world where people are prepared to take a megaphone to their private life with social media platforms, was privacy really a barrier to ecommerce stores?

Your customers want personalisation

Invesp’s report suggests that consumers are more prepared to exchange personal info if businesses are transparent with their intentions.

  • 57% of online shoppers are OK with providing personal information as long as it is for their benefit
  • 77% would trust businesses more if they explained how they use personal information
  • 59% of ecommerce shoppers think it’s easier to find more interesting products on personalised online stores
  • 56% are more likely to revisit a site that provides tailored recommendation

Online shoppers also believe that “retailers who personalise the shopping experience provide a valuable service”.

This helps to prove that if privacy concerns are preventing your customers from willingly offering you the information you need to improve their online shopping experience – well, you’re doing it wrong.

Customers want the most informative, helpful, humanised shopping experience you can possibly provide.

If you provide the most individual, unique, personalised environment, you’ll get the most loyal customers.

Kevin Lindsay from Adobe Target reminds us that your ideal customer’s goal has the same as yours – conversion.

If a consumer is looking to buy, you just need to convince that consumer to buy from you. By using content to bring your customer through each stage of their decision making journey you can lead them down the path to purchase. The more you understand this person and meet their individual needs, the more likely they will become a loyal customer.

Check out this post on the super ecommerce marketing blog Get Elastic for some specific personalisation advice.

How to improve your customer’s experience with personalisation

By now, I’ve convinced you that personalisation is the way of the ecommerce future.

So how do you do it better?

I know cost, time and resources are the biggest factor. We can’t all afford to roll hire in a personalisation algorithm research team like Amazon, but there are so many different way you can make each customer’s journey more tailored to their individual needs.

We’ve pulled together some of the best resources around to help you kick start your one on one customer lovin’.

#1 – The 5 Step Road Map to Personalisation Success

James Gurd, Owner of ecommerce agency Digital Juggler walks you through a five step process to infusing personalisation into your ecommerce armoury.

Gird attributes the ‘paralysis’ preventing ecommerce companies from using personalisation to the difficulties of obtaining buy in over trusted methods like paid search. He shows you how to slowly integrate personalisation without making huge investments and commitments.

From dipping your toe in the water to highly advanced targeting, this Econsultancy article has insights to suit everyone’s risk profile and knowledge level.

#2 – How To Assess Your Personalisation Needs

Monetate show you why “Online personalisation is about using everything you know about a person to help you offer a truly unique, truly relevant experience”

These guys have produced some of the best content marketing we’ve seen in the ecommerce software industry. This simple guide to 9 Questions You Need to Ask When Evaluating Personalisation Platforms will help you work out what sort of solution you need to find to improve your customer’s ecommerce experience.

#3 – A List of the Best Ecommerce Personalisation Providers

Dave Chaffey from Smart Insights has pulled together a list of the best personalisation providers for eCommerce site managers. Dave has updated this list to be current as of June 2014, so almost all of the major providers are here. Unfortunately, you won’t find any detailed comparison reviews. I’m thinking that’s a blog post for another day. Stay tuned and we’ll do our best to give you a thorough rundown.

In the meantime, you can browse the site of each supplier and see if you think you can benefit from their service offering.

#4 – How Personalised Marketing Can Increase Your eCommerce Sales

Estonian digital marketing genius Peep Laja gives you a brilliant blueprint to help you increase customer lifetime value with ecommerce personalisation after the first sale is made. His practical insights on the Conversion XL blog are formed through many years of experience working with market-leading ecommerce companies with his agency speero. This guy knows his stuff, so check this post out and sign up to his blog for more ecommerce inbox juiciness.

#5 – 40 Practical Ways to Personalise Ecommerce Content

Personalisation platform provider Qubit have delivered one of the best pieces of middle of the funnel content marketing we’ve come across in the ecommerce industry. Their Personalisation Guide provides 40 actionable examples supported by specific ecommerce examples.

Remember, personalisation is not all technology, data and software. It doesn’t have to be costly or complicated.

By creating and promoting content to help your customers through every step of their decision making journey you can allow your prospects a personalised experience. If you have different products and services, you’ll have different customers with different research triggers, pain points and information needs.

Content marketing for ecommerce personalisation

With helpful, targeted content you can answer every customer’s individual questions to prove your authority in your industry and establish the trust of your prospect. As a result of an effective ecommerce content marketing program, your website visitors will have a choose-your-own-adventure journey through your content.

You blog is a great way to start. A simple way to improve the personalisation of your site? Attach helpful, educational and entertaining blog posts to related product pages to allow visitors to browse if they want to research before they buy. In this way, you’re using personalisation. You’re showing that you understand some visitors are ready to buy and others want more information.

Our guide to building an eCommerce audience you can bank on explains why you should be developing a content marketing program to meet, greet and keep more loyal customers. We’ve got over 30 pages of info to help you understand how you can use your blog to make your ecommerce experience bring you more sales.

However you move forward with personalisation – just make sure you make each customer’s experience as magnificent as you possibly can. Your bottom line will thank you for it.

By James Dillon
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