How Personalization Can Help Set Your E-Commerce Startup Apart From the Competition

If you spend any time optimizing e-commerce experiences, you’ve encountered an extremely common dilemma: Confront visitors with too many options and they will exit in large numbers driven by the “paradox of choice.” Especially those consumers who are new to your brand. They have about five seconds to spare in giving you a chance to make an impression. This is not the time for a lot of reading or tough decision making.

At the same time, present an offering that is too limited and you’ll risk failing to address the spectrum of use cases that exist across your potential customer base, or looking like you lack authority in your category as a merchant.

For as long as I can remember, the smart money for how to reconcile this challenge has been on personalization.

Know what each customer wants, and your ability to present something relevant in return pays dividends. There’s no shortage of data (or vendors seeking to monetize it for that matter) reinforcing the fact that personalizing experiences can make your business more relevant to potential customers.

What we found to be less common when we started our business was insight on how to make those personalized experiences relevant to consumers; we didn’t want to incentivize our customers to tell us about themselves, we wanted them to be excited to do so.

In the process of cracking this code, we stumbled across a few key themes that were critical to nailing personalization in the eyes of customers, so that they are as excited to partake in the experience as you are to collect the data.

Be customer-centric

First and foremost, anything you do to improve customer experiences needs to be conceived through the lens of what is most important to them as people. All too often, we found the rhetoric around personalization was couched in situations where brands wanted to “make customers offer data” through required fields and funnel restrictions.

The same way signatures offered under duress don’t hold up in court, cornering customers to check a few boxes is unlikely to get things going in the direction you want. At best, he or she will rush through the process to answer “required” questions as quickly as possible, and more often than not, he or she will simply hit the exit button that his or her thumb is resting on the whole time he or she is using your site.

Bottom line, if you wouldn’t be excited to use what you’re going to build, don’t build it.

Create FOMO

To make the experience compelling, you need to offer something that’s unmissable, or create the fear of missing out (aka, FOMO). For our business, that means asserting confidently that telling us how you like your coffee will result in you getting the best coffee you’ve ever made at home.

The truth is that collecting a few key attributes regarding your customers’ preferences can materially improve the relevance of what you might offer them in their next experience. That’s a pretty lousy sales pitch. Getting a digital experience that sucks less is not going to compel customers to fill out a bunch of forms (in all likelihood, they’re already getting this from your biggest competitors).

That’s just one example of what has been successful for many verticals: pull back the veil on a commodity category, and guide the consumer to a personalized choice from a much broader selection to create a much better outcome.

Use it

Consumers are smart, and more than ever they are coming to recognize patterns around the commercial tactics that companies (and particularly startups) have used to create interest and drive loyalty.

To that end, if you are successful in creating a richer understanding of what makes your customers unique, don’t sit on it. Customers will be looking to see their information put to good use based on the time and trust they offered up in making it available to you.

All too often, we found that technical limitations around the links between UX design, CRM data and engagement marketing media prevented companies from actually presenting content that reflected the choices made by consumers.

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Get buy-in across the team

This is seemingly obvious, but from our experience, plenty of companies miss the mark here. From the beginning, your plans to add personalized data to your customer experience need to be coupled with experiences in your user journeys that put that data to work.

Confirm to your customers that you know them and are speaking to them directly. Further, if the technology side of your team does not digest this data and surface it natively in most customer-facing experiences, it can become extremely difficult to create the “from-the-ground-up” experiences that you might aspire to as a product owner.

If your team doesn’t make that data actionable by technologists, data scientists and marketers (even if all three of those are the same person), it’s unlikely to drive the impact or achieve the ubiquity that you were likely aiming for when you set out to make progress on personalization in the first place.

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