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5 Ways to Give E-Commerce Shopping That Personal Touch

By Vivian Wagner
Sep 5, 2017 2:13 PM PT

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.

This is where e-commerce personalization technologies come in, with the goal of delivering an online shopping experience that's at least as interactive as a bricks-and-mortar one.

"Personalized customer experiences should be at the top of every etailer's priority list," said Ed Burek, director for SiteSpect.

"By tailoring their digital properties to meet individual customer needs, brands not only create happier customers, they drive more sales," he told the E-Commerce Times.

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 means using 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 effectiveness 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."

Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. Email Vivian.

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Will supply chain disruptions change when you do your holiday shopping this year?
Yes - I will plan ahead and shop earlier than usual so I have a better chance to find what I need.
Possibly - I like to wait for deals as the holidays approach, though I am concerned that special offers will be limited as a result of shortages.
No - I'll look for alternatives if items on my holiday shopping list arenít available.
I do not plan to do any holiday shopping this year.