A personalized shopping experience gives e-commerce sites an edge, and businesses increasingly have been seeking ways to make their customers feel welcome.
“Every business should make their customers feel like they are the most important customer in the world,” said Rob Maille, head of strategy and customer experience at CommerceCX.
“To do that you need to know and anticipate their wants and needs to deliver the most frictionless shopping experience possible,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “When a customer feels like they are treated well, they tend to purchase more goods and endorse the provider with repeat business and word of mouth.”
Customers are willing to pay a premium for more personalized experiences.
“Research from Deloitte found that one in four consumers are willing to pay more for a personalized product, and that reflects what we’re seeing in the market,” said Kris Goldhair, strategic account director at KBMax.
“We’re in an era of instant gratification, where customers want what they want, when they want it, and they assign greater value to custom goods as opposed to something that’s mass-produced,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
The more customers experience personalization in their shopping experiences, the more they expect it every time they visit an e-commerce site.
“Customers have come to expect unique and personalized experiences with brands every time they interact with them — whether online, in-store or via mobile devices,” observed Sarah Assous, senior vice president for marketing at Zoovu.
“The myriad of options available to today’s consumers allows them to choose from numerous vendors and explore countless products online. However, while the vast number of product options is beneficial, it can ultimately lead to roadblocks in consumers’ ability to make a selection, better known as ‘choice overload,’” she told the E-Commerce Times.
The more ubiquitous personalization becomes, the more customers are inclined to evaluate companies by the degree of personalization they offer at every step of the way in their shopping experiences.
“As we embark on this new era of e-commerce, where customer expectations are rising every day, companies have an opportunity to differentiate by providing an in-store personalized experience online,” said Ryan Lester, senior director of customer experience technologies at LogMeIn.
“Whether that’s helping customers with product discovery or delivering proactive support, it’s these types of experiences that help companies make the most of the short time they have with their buyers,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Artificial intelligence is a particularly important part of any kind of customized shopping experience, since it serves as a bridge between customers and e-commerce retailers.
“The deployment of AI-powered conversational marketing tools is a key first step,” noted Zoovu’s Assous. “Conversational marketing tools are able to guide consumers through the buyer journey to ensure that consumers are able to identify their ideal products and make the appropriate purchase accordingly. Recent data shows that 81 percent of consumers said using a digital sales assistant would increase their purchase decision-confidence.”
In combination with customer data, AI can be an invaluable tool.
“An effective way retailers are using data with their integrated CRM systems is to create customized promotions and attractive incentive offers suited to each customer in an effort to improve their chances of driving conversions,” noted CommerceCX’s Maille.
Effective personalization requires getting all the technology and data to work together seamlessly to deliver a unique experience to each customer.
“It all starts with creating a streamlined personalization and buying experience with a solid CPQ (configure, price, quote) solution,” said KBMax’s Goldhair.
“Such a solution helps to dissolve the silos between sales and engineering in order to facilitate more prompt communication and fulfill customer expectations for a speedy, personalized experience,” he pointed out. “A quality CPQ solution can also eliminate the pressure that retail manufacturers might feel to overhaul all systems, perfect a custom solution, or invest a lot into a proprietary tool. The right third-party solution provider can help to reduce time-to-market and establish a workflow specially suited for mass customization manufacturing.”
Though it can be expensive, customizing customer experiences and products may be worth the investment.
“Retailers are beginning to discover that the expense of investing in mass customization as a trend is worth the extra sales — especially with the help of emerging 4IR (fourth industrial revolution) technologies like CPQ,” said Goldhair. “These solutions can help manufacturers handle the increased production of custom goods while keeping overhead costs low.”
It’s important to remember, however, that delivering a truly customized shopping experience is a long process.
“What’s most important to remember is that digital transformation doesn’t need to happen overnight,” cautioned Goldhair. “Companies should slowly chip away in order to prevent overspending on unnecessary technology. By taking everything one step at a time, manufacturers can take advantage of revolutionary tech while slowly changing their processes and avoid feeling overwhelmed.”
The Future of Personalization
Customization in the future likely will continue to evolve into ever more personalized shopping experiences.
“When this is done right, the shopping, buying and service experience of a modern commerce ecosystem will have a direct impact on the experience, which will make the technology feel like a trusted friend,” said Maille. “You can’t get more personalized than that.”
Customers increasingly will expect their personalized products to be delivered almost instantaneously, which means that the pathways between ordering, manufacturing and shipping will need to be seamless.
“It’s one thing to offer personalization and another to respond with the speed today’s customers expect,” said Assous. “If manufacturers really want to be prepared to ramp up production quickly, they need automated tools in place to quickly configure products and produce accurate quotes, produce engineering specifications, transmit a bill of materials into an ERP system to ensure an adequate supply of raw materials is available, and share all this information with the manufacturing floor.”
Over time, personalization is likely to shape nearly all aspects of the shopping experience, from a customer’s initial browsing to the manufacturing and shipping of products.
“Today, not very many companies go beyond the recommendation engines, but soon it will become a normal part of the experience,” predicted LogMeIn’s Lester.
“As personalization continues to mature, we’ll see it move from a reactionary mode — that is, answering a question in a contextual and tailored way — to more of an assistive role, where technology will be able to keep a perpetual conversation with the customer going so that companies can better identify their customers’ needs. This creates long-term engagement that can result in additional purchases and brand loyalty.”