While sales from traditional brick-and-mortar businesses still capture a majority of the market, revenue from online shopping continues to grow at a staggering rate. But unlike physical stores that have sales associates on hand to provide personal shopping assistance, retail websites must rely on clever content and smart web design to compete not only with the physical stores but also the online retail giants. To put that in perspective, according to research firm Statista, Amazon posted revenue of almost $20 billion in Q1 2014 alone. Competing in this arena can be extremely difficult for many companies since most technology budgets are a small fraction of what Amazon can tap into. Therefore it’s critical that retailers who aren’t in the mega-corporation category make smart technology choices and focus on what truly will make a difference.
One technology avenue to pursue is personalization. According to Gartner analyst Gene Alvarez, “By 2018, Gartner predicts, B2B companies with effective personalization on their e-commerce sites will outsell by 30% competitors without the same level of personalization.”
The first feature of personalization to consider is user preferences and user history. While it makes the entire shopping process much easier if the vendor automatically knows my name, shopping history and mailing address, the real key to ensuring customer satisfaction is if the retailer know my preferences and can make intelligent recommendations that will help improve my experience when I shop.
Just as important is if the vendor can proactively send me promotional materials and information about campaigns that are geared towards my interests and not just information about the latest sale. Industry experts agree that marketers who focus on understanding their customers have a positive outlook. In the Forrester blog analyst Melissa Parrish stated that, “In the coming year (2014), marketers will start contextualizing their data, drawing even richer insights, and using those insights to create not just more relevant, but personalized campaigns and experiences.
Managing customer touch points for a better customer journey
Here are six ways that marketers can improve their customer’s experience on their websites.
- Tailor messages: Being sent a generic email about an upcoming sale on a product line won’t grab my attention if it’s a product I don’t care about. If my history shows that I’m interested in running shoes, send me sale information about running shirts and events in my area. Just as important is making my experience enjoyable. If you send me information that asks me to visit the site for a product I am interested in, make sure that the landing page is tailored to my needs. According to the Custom Content Council, 61% of consumers say they feel better about, and are more likely to buy from, a company that delivers custom content.
- Intelligent targeting: Visitors will come back to your website if they like what they see and if you make it worth their while. Make sure that you cater to their needs at the time of their visit by personalizing the content on your website according to their interests. Advanced website technologies allow you see where your customer visited last time and so you can make an educated guess on what they are interested in. It’s as simple as offering 10% off on the product they viewed last time instead of a generic 10% coupon.
- Simplify: I’m a big proponent of the adage Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t overload me with useless information, get to the point and please make sure that it’s easy for me to navigate your website. It’s very annoying when I have to click on links on five different pages to get to where I want to be. Worse yet are broken links and unreliable, poorly presented search results.
- Tell me a story: Catching my eye with 35% off or half-year sale is a take it or leave it proposition. It works some of the time when customers need what you’re offering. Make sure that in addition to the offers you’re also sharing high quality tips and advice so I see your company as a destination, not just a low price option. Remember: low prices = low margins and low profits. Instead try telling stories about your products and company. Who are your customers and employees? How can you increase my value from what I buy from you?
- Stale is boring: One of the things that I don’t like is when a company doesn’t take the time and effort to make their website compelling and up to date. If the latest blog entry is from six months ago, I’m gone. To keep a customer interested in your website, make sure that the content on your website if fresh and timely. If it’s June and I see an add promoting the Super Bowl, you’ve lost me.
- Think best of breed: Unless you have very deep pocket, trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to online marketing and e-commerce is a losing proposition. A much better approach is best-of-breed so you have the flexibility to adopt new innovations as they appear on the market. Be sure to select marketing technologies that integrate seamlessly with your content management system, and link your CMS with your e-commerce platform.
Personalization = Success
So now that you’ve decided that raising sales and improving customer relations is important to your company’s success, how are you going to sell it to your stakeholders? In other words you’ll need to answer the question of ‘how will advanced content management systems and marketing technologies help improve your business?’ The benefits of improved personalization are many but here are five ways that it will help your company:
- Improved sales process: Personalization helps you deliver well-qualified leads to the sales team and shorten the sales cycle.
- Engaging information: Regularly adding new and interesting content to your website helps keep your customers engaged, which it turn increases customer loyalty. An interesting side benefit is that it helps your SEO.
- Simplify the experience: Targeted sales, noting preferences and making the purchase process easier, makes life much easier for your customers which improves their experience.
- Repeat customers: By addressing the key points that I’ve highlighted you are able to strengthen your company’s brand which means that customers will most likely become that ever so valued commodity…the repeat customer.
- Brand ambassadors: Happy customers are great references. They will talk about their experiences good or bad. So make it a good experience they will share their opinions with other people.
Oliver Jaeger is vice president global marketing & communications for e-Spirit Inc. in North America