Saturday, May 4, 2013

Personalized or Personal? No, Engagement!

               Almost every eCommerce site has “personalized” recommendations for what else you should be buying. Most of these recommendations occur while checking out or while viewing your shopping cart. The recommendations are based on what you have in your cart compared to what other people who purchased similar items had in their carts.

               There is an increasing desire to have a more personalized shopping experience than these general recommendations of how my interests are similar to others. In other words what I am really saying is that when I go online shopping I want the site to know what I am looking for before I know what I am looking for. How is this possible? Is this “personalized” experience that I say I want so much the same as a “personal” shopping experience?

               I agree with many who believe personalization is not as important as personal. Here[i] is a blog in which Maz Iqbal describes the difference between personalization and personal. He describes personalization as the necessary “hygiene factor”. By making recommendations that are relevant to my interests the company is more likely to keep the customer, for it makes the customer believe the company has their act together and understand how to use the data being collected. “Personalization”, he says lacks the ability to build positive emotion, engagement or loyalty. Without personalization though creates dissatisfaction with the site. Human beings need to have a personal experience to build desired emotion, engagement and loyalty.

               Maz describes why a “personal touch” matters by sharing an experience when a company earned his loyalty. A book that he ordered online came with a printed receipt. At the bottom of the receipt was a handwritten note stating: “Thanks for your order, hope you enjoy this excellent book and find it useful. Best wishes, RocketSurgery Crew.” Because of this simple note, RocketSurgery has won Maz’s loyalty when faced with a future choice between them and another company.

So What?

          According to ChoiceStream[ii], 59% of consumers still think they are receiving poor recommendations for products. Furthermore, righting a handwritten generic note does not seem to be that emotionally charging. The point is that whatever action you take on your site, you want to engage the customer.
Here are three suggestions to help engage customers through “personalization” or adding the “personal” touch.
1.      Data analysis. Amazon has been the leader in this area. Most companies collect data at POS, IP information, and traffic sources to and from. The key is how to analyze the data and then what to do with it. See this[iii] for more on Big Data.
2.      Social Commerce[iv]. Here is a source of built in recommendations and a vast network of friends with similar interests and buying habits. Imagine performing a Google search for cross country skis and seeing in the results people in your social network who are involved in cross country skiing and what gear they have.
3.      Multi-channeling. An overwhelming majority of purchases are made in the following manner (example): seeing an advertisement on television then performing a search in connection with that advertisement with a tablet, sometime driving to a store to test out the product and buy it on a mobile phone while standing in the store.

Personalized recommendations are necessary at least not to drive customers away. The personal touch is necessary to build emotion, engagement and loyalty. Combining both techniques are sure to increase overall customer engagement both on and off line.

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