eTail East 2017: Personalization is Imperative in E-commerce

BOSTON — Personalization has been a top concern for all manner of companies for years, but it is now becoming vital that online retailers proactively use all the data they're collecting to appeal to customers as individuals, according to the consensus of speakers on day one of the eTail East conference.

Mukund Ramachandran, vice president of marketing at Dynamic Yield, and an eTail East chairperson, said that a strong personalization strategy is becoming especially important on mobile devices, where shoppers are spending growing amounts of time browsing product images. The greatest challenge for retailers now is deciding what content to show each customer on a smaller screen. “You are in the (pixel) real estate business,” read a slide he posted during his presentation. And, with limited real estate, “you can’t afford to be wrong,” he said. He noted that strong email programs have a slim chance of working for companies that have not optimized their mobile layouts and experiences. The two are “inextricably linked,” he said, partly because a large portion of consumers open their emails on mobile devices, and better handheld experiences can lead to a rise in conversions.

When Rafeh Massood joined BJ's Wholesale, an East Coast–based membership-only warehouse chain, as senior vice president and chief digital officer just two and a half months ago, the first order of business was to improve the mobile website. Speaking from the main stage, Massood described how the company updated the site's look and feel, making it easier to navigate and shop, and implemented expedited checkout features for in-store shoppers using mobile phones. And though there has been debate over the effectiveness of mobile apps, the company will be releasing one soon. “I think there’s a way for apps and the mobile web to coexist,” he said. For the company, “it’s about convenience,” Massood added, noting that it’s “important for an app to have personality and [for the company to] respect the real estate that customers are giving [them] on their personal device.”

In a panel discussion on the future of marketing and retail, speakers agreed that data needs to be not just collected by an organization but also used in specific ways that will ultimately foster better customer relationships. For Keurig, personalization means understanding its customers in terms of how they take their coffee, as well as which coffee products resonate the most with them. Ryan Scott, the company’s digital operations manager, noted that though a lot of people drink coffee every morning, it means different things to each of them. The mission for Keurig is to use the available data to focus on what each person’s perfect cup is, taking into account, for instance, what roast and brand they prefer. “That’s where data comes in to make individualized experiences,” he said. The company can also use customer data to decide which specific products to show to visitors on the Keurig website, for example.

Nick Fairbairn, senior vice president of marketing at Le Tote, noted in his keynote that for his company—a monthly subscription-based retailer that sends customers a box of clothing and accessories to try on and select items from—personalization efforts only improve as it gathers more data. By the time customers get their third box in the mail, they're purchasing 50 percent of the items on average, he said. This is only possible because Le Tote is continuously acting on data to better understand customer proclivities and making adjustments accordingly.  

Similar messages about the necessity of personalization were shared during the afternoon breakout sessions. In a presentation titled “Accessorizing Your Service with Talent,” Nina Alexander-Hearst, vice president of brand marketing at Baublebar, a jewelry retailer, discussed the ways in which the company is making online shopping more personable and fun for customers. She pointed out that when people go out to shop, they tend to go with “trusted confidants” whose tastes they identify with. This is why the company has developed a team of “SWAT stylists,” whose purpose is to match actual people from the Baublebar team to recommendation engines. Each of the SWAT stylists has a special online page that includes a head shot and a rotating set of items curated by that person.

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