Ask anyone in the e-commerce space and they’ll tell you: it’s a numbers game. The numbers we rely on every day offer insights into every aspect of our competitive industry, from the click-through success of advertising campaigns to the conversion rates of specifically placed “Buy Now” buttons.
Yet in this world of quantitative analytics, we’re losing something: the human element. The reliance on quantitative insights offers a universe of instructive and actionable data, but it reduces customers and potential customers to numbers. In short, it can tell us the what of people’s actions, but it neglects the why.
Answering the why is a much trickier proposition because it relies on conversations with customers. Through conversations, e-commerce leaders are able to glean qualitative insights that can inform everything from more successful site structures and pathways to purchase, to understanding the motivations behind customer actions.
When taken as a whole, the blend of qualitative and quantitative insights allows e-commerce professionals to offer a personalized experience for their customers, powered by people. By understanding and addressing customer wants and needs by leveraging direct interactions, e-commerce companies can gain an immense competitive advantage over those who solely take a numbers-based approach to their insights.
The State of Personalization in E-Commerce Today
When we talk about “personalization” in e-commerce today, what does that actually mean? In many cases, it means that e-commerce provides ways of tailoring a shopping experience to a specific customer. This personalization can take many forms: advanced recommended product dialogues, targeted advertising that follows customers around the websites they visit, emails with a customer’s name in them, and specialized offers based on a customer’s shopping history.
The issue with this personalized approach, however, is that it’s algorithmically generated. It is, by definition, impersonal.
In some instances, it can be downright off-putting. We’ve all been there: we view a product once, and for the next week every other website we visit has a targeted ad featuring that product. The word Orwellian gets tossed around a lot these days, but this form of targeting can feel unnerving and downright frustrating, especially if it’s a product you’ve already purchased.
Company interactions in e-commerce can also give the illusion of personalization without actually offering a personalized experience. Many companies rely on bots or auto-generated chats that give the impression of a real interaction while sapping out the humanity of it.
These uncanny experiences are the reality of many e-commerce customers; and while it’s certainly better than providing no unique experience at all, it can be a deterrent to creating return customers or earning that conversion. In worst cases, more privacy-minded customers can bristle at the uncanny aspect of algorithmically generated personalization, feeling that their data is being harvested (which is very well may be).
Gaining Invaluable Qualitative Insights
While there’s an entire industry structured around gathering quantitative data on customers, it’s important to recognize that data only tells one side of the customer’s story. It reveals what a customer did — whether they clicked or didn’t click, bought or didn’t buy — but it fails to address the motivations behind their actions.
E-commerce companies have leveraged polls to try and answer for the motivations, but again, polls function rigidly based on predetermined sets of responses. They get closer to answering the why, but don’t allow for follow-ups or any deeper understanding. The reality is, in many cases, polls offer yet another quantitative data set that can be used to influence the on-site experience.
To truly understand customer wants and motivations, e-commerce professionals need to talk to their customers. There are a number of tools available to gain these insights, but the safest and most effective in this socially distanced era is smart video platforms.
Smart video platforms differ from the traditional video conferencing systems we’ve all become accustomed to over these past few months in that they offer a number of structured tools presenters can use to guide conversations with customers. These smart platforms also include tools that can be used to elicit real-time reactions to generate and gain valuable insights from customers.
Leveraging Smart Video Platforms
Through smart video platforms, hosts are able to screen share and observe customers as they go through the buyer’s journey on a website. But unlike traditional quantitative analysis that only shows where a customer clicks, in a structured conversation the host can ask why a customer did or didn’t click in a particular place. Hosts can determine what barriers exist that prevent customers from completing tasks.
Most importantly, from these behavioral studies, e-commerce professionals can speak to customers about their experiences and learn first-hand what improvements can be made to make the shopping experience more intuitive. It’s these qualitative insights that can uncover what customers truly want from a buying experience while providing room for follow-up questions to further understand what executable actions can be taken to make these changes a reality.
Oftentimes e-commerce professionals can get a sort of tunnel vision — a “developer mindset” — that detaches them from the real-world customer experience of a website. Over time, what becomes intuitive and logical to those building a website becomes untethered from the reality of shopping online. These conversations and real-time site use monitoring studies allow e-commerce specialists the ability to see their site through objective, fresh eyes and adapt accordingly.
Qualitative Insights for Real-World Personalization
The way personalization exists on e-commerce sites today may be data-driven or impersonal in many ways, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable or effective. Having intelligently recommended products or customized email campaigns serves customers with products and offers that can generate sales.
The personalization gleaned from qualitative analysis, however, is more structural. The real-world insights gleaned from structured conversations with customers allows e-commerce professionals to tailor the shopping experience to meet the needs of how customers actually shop. By empathetically listening to customer feedback, website personalization can be adapted to a nuanced understanding of needs, wants, and motivations.
For example, an e-commerce company can remedy points of friction within the buying process by observing roadblocks to checkout and altering button placement or changing language for clarity. They can also find areas on their website that might confuse customers and discover places where they can offer additional explanatory text or contact dialogues to help customers feel acknowledged and aided.
Video platforms provide a new frontier for e-commerce. Not only can smart video be used to communicate with customers in a focus group-style setting, but as customers become more comfortable with video conversations as a part of their everyday routine, it can be leveraged as a way to provide high-level sales and customer support, allowing valuable customers to get a face-to-face, personalized experience with a member of the team.
But more than anything, smart video platforms provide e-commerce professionals with a way to answer the why through conversation; to turn customers from numbers on a page to human beings with personalities and preferences that can be translated into real-world changes that create a more personalized e-commerce experience.
It can’t be understated how important the value of quantitative analytics is, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of a customer’s motivations. Qualitative analysis through conversations with customers helps answer the why.
The way personalization works in e-commerce now is largely impersonal; meaning it gives the illusion of personalization through algorithmically generated content.
By leveraging conversations with customers through smart video platforms, e-commerce professionals can create a real, personalized experience based on qualitative customer insights.
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