As digital technology has advanced and UX standards have increased massively, personalization has become a priority for all ecommerce retailers. If you don’t make an effort to cater to the unique requirements of each user, you’ll miss out on countless minor opportunities to turn the odds in your favor.
And while the exact implementation of personalization you should adopt will depend entirely on your circumstances, there are some general rules that every online store owner should follow.
Here are the 7 rules of ecommerce personalization that I consider unbreakable if you’re serious about getting results.
1. Get full user consent
Since the ecommerce world is still in the process of adapting to the implementation of the Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, this rule absolutely warrants top billing. It isn’t just unbreakable if you want to get the best possible results — it’s unbreakable if you don’t want to drive your customers away and possibly fall foul of the law.
Personalization requires the storage and processing of personal data, and you simply must inform the user of what you intend to store, what you plan to do with it, and what it means for them to consent to your terms. If you try to obfuscate what’s happening, gloss over it, or gain consent by bundling it with something like a cookie notice, you’ll just end up losing user trust.
2. Provide options
Having a personalized ecommerce experience is great, but it shouldn’t be mandatory. Even if a user is logged in to their account, they should have the option of disabling or modifying some or all of the personalization features. After all, if you provide a personalization element the user doesn’t want, it will leave a bad taste in their mouth and feel somewhat intrusive.
If you adjust your theming for different users, allow them to make changes at their leisure and set their own colors and styles. This kind of thing is particularly important for regional sites. Even if someone is accessing your store from a particular country, they may not be from that country or intending to order within it — use an auto-detect location function, by all means, but allow them to manually override it.
3. Don’t be overly familiar
I’ve always been very particular about how I’m addressed in emails from websites I’m not tremendously familiar with. The general idea is that using someone’s first name lends an informal air and makes them feel more comfortable with you, but if you’re not very careful, it can end up more like putting your arm around a stranger’s shoulder — uncomfortable, presumptuous, and very off-putting.
Imagine being an in-store salesperson and seeing a new prospective customer walk in. You need to proceed at the right pace, introducing yourself, telling them about what you can offer, and putting them at ease before you start asking any vaguely personal questions. If you personalize too early, you raise guards and lose faith.
4. Stay tonally appropriate
As anyone who has ever tried to write marketing copy knows, there’s a big difference between what you say and how you say it. The tone you need to strike in any given situation will depend on the type of user you’re addressing and the context of where they are in your sales funnel.
Using slang terms can be very productive, for instance, but only if you’re talking to people who appreciate that kind of language. Older demographics will more likely recoil from it. And there’s a big difference between what you should say to a prospect and what an existing customer needs to hear. Marketing spiel is fine for a stranger but far too much for someone already sold on your core value.
5. Target specific goals
Ecommerce personalization isn’t done for enjoyment — it serves a clear general purpose of generating more revenue. That said, what you’re trying to achieve with any given piece of personalization will be slightly different. Are you looking to set the user at ease? Impress them? Make them feel in control of what’s happening? And to what immediate end? Downloading a brochure? Signing up for a newsletter?
If you lose sight of what you’re trying to do with your personalized features, you’ll be unable to meaningfully review them, and thus unable to improve them. Think about a selection of relevant products chosen based on the user’s browsing and purchasing history: the user may appreciate having it there, but if your data shows that no one ever clicks on the links, that section is not meriting its inclusion and should be reworked or removed.
6. Automate efficiently
You can try to break this rule, but you won’t be able to manage it for very long. Any aspect of your personalization process that needs to be handled manually (or operates automatically but in a clumsy way) will waste time and resources. The more efficiently you can implement automation, the more in-depth and widespread you can make your personalization.
In most instances, this will come down to the smart use of tools for marketing, typically SaaS packages like Segmentify’s full-service personalization system and/or basic plugins for ecommerce systems including Shopify, Volusion, or BigCommerce (Shopify’s basic eshop creator can’t do much personalization out of the box, for instance, but it can be built on using add-ons such as Product Personalizer).
If you have a custom store, though, you’ll need to see what options there are for integration with your customer database. Anyone without much technical expertise is best served consulting a developer for some advice.
7: Build on feedback
The whole point of personalizing your ecommerce journey is to make the customer happier and address their needs in order to encourage them to buy from you. While the analytics data can tell you a lot, it can’t tell you anything experiential — you can see that a customer left your sales funnel, but you can’t know why. This is why it’s essential that you get high-quality user feedback.
Send out surveys with completion incentives (entries into prize draws, discount codes, etc.). Email customers a couple of weeks after purchasing to ask them how they’d rate their experience and what they’d change, if anything. No amount of in-house testing using personas will ever be worth as much as real-world insight from your intended users.
There you go: 7 rules for ecommerce personalization that you should never forget if you want to provide an optimal UX and keep your customers loyal. If there ever comes a time when you feel that you’re justified in breaking one of them, double-check your thought process — you’d better have an excellent reason.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit the blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.