Personalisation in eCommerce - What Customers DON'T Want

By Michelle McSweeney

You know what really grinds my gears? When retailers feign a ‘personalised experience’ by simply using my first name in communications and send me an annual birthday message. Oh, you know what also grinds my gears? When shopping online feels less like personalisation is at play, and more like ‘Big Brother is watching your every move’.

Not that I’m embarrassed of my online search history or anything…

That’s the trouble with personalisation. Striking the right balance for customers can be extremely tricky. Because customers really do want personalised experiences when shopping online. 44% of consumers are more likely to become repeat buyers after having a personalised online shopping experience with a brand. But where do retailers fall down when it comes to ecommerce personalisation? We’re looking at some of the personalisation no-nos that, rather than making customers feel engaged with your brand, sends them running for the hills instead!

The Online-Offline Personalisation Gap

An omnichannel approach to ecommerce shouldn’t be limited to the operations aspect of an online store alone. When we look at the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience, it’s easy to think it’s not really possible to mirror an online personalised experience in real life - what does that even mean, anyway? Staff greeting shoppers by name at the entrance of the store? Recommending products based on their previous buying history, making it appear completely coincidental? Well, that’s enough to make anyone think that you’ve installed a hidden camera in their house!

So let’s take a step back. Offline personalisation is actually very achievable - it’s simply a matter of enabling shoppers to apply the personalised experience they’ve received on one channel to another.

For example - I’m sent a promotional code by email for 20% off my next online purchase. Why shouldn’t I be able to walk into my nearest bricks and mortar store and apply the same discount to my purchases? Surely it shouldn’t matter where a purchase takes place, be it online or offline. Limiting personalised incentives to online channels only certainly isn’t going to help the high street succeed - if anything, it’s just creating another silo!


Assumption-based ‘personalisation’

Put it this way: ‘personalised’ content should never make a customer cry! Think of all of the people in your marketing database who receive promotional emails about buying the perfect gift for Mother’s or Father’s Day, except their parent or parents have passed away, possibly very recently.

Similarly, what about all of the people on Facebook who ‘coincidentally’ start getting served ads for pushchairs and cots a couple of months after they’ve switched their relationship status to ‘married’, but aren’t actually interested in starting a family, or even worse, are unable to.

The trouble here is that this isn’t personalisation at all. It’s assumption-based marketing, wrapped in the facade of personalisation. Chances are, these people have never shown any interest in these types of promotions or products online. So why are they being served this content in the first place? This kind of advertising could very well be enough to turn perfectly good customers off your brand for the long haul.

True personalisation is based on relevance and behaviour. Not on broad segmentation and linear thinking around life events.


Personalisation that would have been useful 5 days ago

Well, I’ve been there, anyway. Browsed an online store for a particular product - for example, an iron. Added it to my cart only to become distracted and leave the website for one reason for another. Eventually, I return though, and purchase said iron. Great! One less job to do (or one more, depending on what way you look at it!).

Except that was days ago, and now, that godforsaken iron won’t stop following me around the internet. On my social media accounts. In webpage banners. Videos on YouTube are being interrupted by the iron. But wait, there’s more. These ads have the audacity to tell me that the iron that I’ve just bought is now reduced by 25%! Well, isn’t that swell…

Retargeting campaigns are great, as long as the data that they run off of is up to date and accurate. Again, this should extend to offline activity as well. If a customer purchases a product in a bricks and mortar store that they had previously viewed or added to their cart online, and use an email address or loyalty card at the time of purchase, there’s no reason why those people should be retargeted by the item online ever again. Complementary items, sure. Retargeting them with that exact product is doing nothing more than wasting marketing budget and contributing to a poor customer experience.

Online shopping

‘Flogging a dead horse’ personalisation

There are two personalisation scenarios which, as a consumer, are akin to banging your head against a brick wall.

Firstly, there’s the abandoned cart that will never be recovered, no matter what you do. Sometimes people add items to their shopping carts with no intention of actually making a purchase. And it doesn’t matter what kind of retargeting you do, or how many touchpoints you hit, that cart is going to remain abandoned. Knowing when to pull the plug on retargeting campaigns, therefore, is essential in the quest to convert customers. Because they’ve moved on with their lives. And so should you.

Similarly, knowing when to cut the ‘similar products’ feed, and replace it with a ‘you might also like’ conveyor. If I’ve been to a website and purchased a grey couch, why would I be interested in seeing 10 other versions of grey couches the next time I visit the store again? The deal is done. The couch has been purchased, I’m no longer in the market for one. Now, a coffee table, or a rug that’s in the same colour scheme - well, those, on the other hand, may just pique my interest!    

Effective personalisation should delight shoppers - not frustrate, annoy, or even upset them. If shoppers are ecommerce/marketing savvy, they should ideally feel like your brand truly understands them and is running clever campaigns to personalise their experience. And if they aren’t in tune with how personalisation works, then they should feel that they always happen to receive messages and offers at the exact right moment in time.

With personalisation playing such a huge role in bumping up ecommerce revenue these days, it’s never been more important for retailers to achieve the correct balance and create the kind of personalised experience that customers crave.

Michelle McSweeney, Content Marketing Manager, Kooomo

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