Personalization is a valuable and effective part of the shopping experience. But personalization must always be just that – a part of the shopping experience, not the shopping experience. There are occasions when a shopper asks for certain products and the search results are affected by personalization. Being able to find relevant products through good search is imperative to higher conversion rates.
Don’t get me wrong, personalization is great
The scope and advantages of personalization for eCommerce are ever-growing. Personalization systems tailor the information a customer sees on the screen based on something known about them. For example, if a shopper in Atlanta searches for jackets in the spring, a personalization system might use the knowledge of location and time of year to display lighter-weight jackets than it would to another shopper living in Boston during the winter. Or maybe a shopper has been browsing the women’s department of a site, then searches for a shirt. The personalization system might choose to show women’s shirts to the shopper first.
Shoppers can even be labeled with a persona, based on their search and purchase history, such as ‘budget- buyer’ or ‘fashion-conscious’. A personalization system can change the way the same product is presented to different people, for example by using a particular template, or highlighting the reviews of a product. The visual results and recommendations will vary depending on the type of shopper that has been identified. Personalization can mean many things to many people. But if personalization sacrifices accuracy for a shopper, it can result in a serious reduction in customer conversion.
Picture the Scene…
Kerry has come to know Sarah like a friend. Sarah is an assistant in the women’s department of Kerry’s favorite store. Over the years, Sarah has learned Kerry’s taste in color and style and seems to always help Kerry find exactly what she is looking for.
On this day, Kerry decides to do some shopping on her lunch break and heads over to the store. She explains that she needs a dress for a wedding this summer at the beach. Surprisingly, Sarah doesn’t think they have anything for such an occasion. Kerry persists and repeats her request in simpler terms. This seems to work as Sarah springs into action and asks Kerry to follow her. She then leads Kerry downstairs into the men’s department where she stops in front of men’s slim-fit suits. Confused, Kerry asks Sarah if she had heard her correctly. Sarah explains that she had noticed Kerry was shopping for men’s slim-fit shirts last week, and since she is shopping for a wedding outfit, these suits would work perfectly.
After explaining to Sarah that she had been shopping for her husband last week, Kerry heads back to the women’s department on her own. After finding something, she remembers she also needs a jacket for the outfit and asks Sarah to find something appropriate. Unfortunately, Sarah returns with a winter coat. Exasperated, Kerry exclaims, “I asked for a light jacket, I can’t wear a winter coat to a summer wedding!” Sarah is once again confused and explains that it is currently only 40 degrees outside and that she assumed Kerry would need a winter coat.
Personalized bad results are worse than no personalization at all
Wouldn’t it be crazy to actually experience the above situation in a brick and mortar store? Yet if we allow personalization to rule over relevancy, this will be the experience in our online stores. And an online shopper is likely to give up on their shopping experience if they receive poor search results. Don’t expect them to have Kerry’s patience.
Relevance is key
Typically, shoppers that use the search box have an idea of what they’re looking for, so they probably aren’t ‘window shopping’. Users who search during a session are far more likely to convert than those who navigate using categories and attributes. Being able to find the right products is fundamental. Therefore, if a shopper asks to see blue mountain bikes, you need to show them blue mountain bikes. And if you don’t carry blue mountain bikes, show them the red, white, black mountain bikes you do sell.
Clearly, the ability to bring back relevant results should remain the focus when it comes to search. But by all means, show your customers the most relevant products in a personalized way. Show them what they are asking for, in a way that makes them want to buy. Highlight different aspects of a product or show products in a different order, but ensure that those products are actually what your customer searched for.
Personalization is at its best when it is used in the context of the right set of products to choose from – the most relevant products. That’s when personalization becomes powerful.