The Future of Ecommerce Personalization is Context-Based

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Ecommerce personalization pays dividends (credit: Erik Mclean on Unsplash)

The way we define ecommerce personalization is in serious need of an update.

The traditional approach to personalized product recommendations — based on data like age, gender and previous on-site behavior — will almost certainly miss the mark for customers and deliver weak business results.

The reason? It’s missing one of the most important factors of tending to a person’s needs: Context. True personalization or “hyper-personalization” not only accounts for a shopper’s taste and demographics, but it also stays up to date with their changing needs, moods and intentions on every visit.

In the next frontier of the customer experience, the true measure of effective personalization will be your ability to understand individual shoppers’ current contexts, and deliver exactly what they’re looking for in the moment of need.

The definition of CX is constantly evolving, and most personalization engines aren’t equipped to keep up.

Imagine after several months, you return to a fashion retailer’s website to look for some new jeans and sweaters. Last time you bought something from this store was over the summer, when you purchased two bathing suits and sunglasses. Based on your prior behavior, all the recommendations you see are for bathing suits and coverups instead of the winter clothes you need.

Or, imagine you’ve just added a new suit jacket to your cart, and now you’re on the hunt for some pajamas. Now, recommendations for the most comfortable sweats would be relevant for you, but you’re still seeing a bunch of businesswear.

In both scenarios, the personalization engine is doing exactly what it was trained to do: it’s surfacing items you previously indicated you like. But as soon as your context shifts, it’s useless.

Shoppers’ contexts can change in seconds, even within the same session. Unless your personalization engine can keep up in real-time, you will be unable to offer relevant recommendations.

Context-Based Personalization = A Truly Personalized CX

To provide a truly personalized customer experience, brands must go beyond what a shopper likes and tap into their current intentions and needs.

Here’s how:

Listen to the Product, Not the Person

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the way to avoid irrelevant demographic-based recommendations is by forgetting the person, and focusing on the products they view, click on, and purchase. Within your product metadata — if it’s sufficiently enriched — lies a wellspring of information about your shoppers’ aesthetic preferences and tastes. And that information is as up-to-date as their most recent actions on your site.

After all, a 35-year-old woman from New York could easily be shopping for a present for her husband. Demographic “wisdom” may suggest showing her the floral dresses her peers have recently purchased, but those recommendations would miss the mark so completely as to be a nuisance if she was tight on time and determined to find the right gift.

Instead, if you were to consider the fine details of the items she’s viewing within that session, for example, the material, width, and pattern of the ties she’s browsed through, you’d be able to make much more relevant product recommendations.

Traditional personalization has a blind spot for these fine deals, and for unpacking a shopper’s context in real-time. But today’s shoppers expect to be understood and catered to even when they’ve strayed from their usual shopping patterns.

With technologies like visual AI, you can gain a deeper understanding of product details. Unlike conventional AI, visual AI actually learns about every individual shopper’s unique style and taste by analyzing the visual attributes of the items they interact with. This insight — which becomes sharper over time — functions like a long-time personal shopping assistant who understands exactly what their customer is looking for.

Connected Data Provides Context-Based Personalization

A person’s perception of a brand or retailer is the cumulative result of every touchpoint he or she has had with them, from browsing on site to scrolling past their ads on Instagram to receiving email newsletters to being retargeted on other websites.

Nothing signals to a consumer that you have completely disregarded their context like a fragmented omnichannel experience.

Your on-site recommendations may have piqued their interest, but if your next marketing email offers completely unrelated products, they won’t click. Not only that, but they will think, This brand really doesn’t get me. Not only that, but you’ve just wasted a valuable opportunity to convert the shopper with products they would have actually loved and wanted to buy.

With highly connected data, you can ensure all of your channels are updated in real-time according to a shopper’s shifting contexts and provide hyper-relevant recommendations that drive conversion.

Make Empathy Your Anchor

Empathy is paramount to providing a great customer experience.

Context-based personalization is the ultimate form of “eCommerce empathy.” Only by understanding your shoppers’ current contexts as they change in real-time can you truly fulfill their needs.

In the digital world, an empathetic customer experience covers the three E’s: effectiveness, ease, and emotion.

  • Effectiveness refers to the amount of value a shopper can get from a shopping experience
  • Ease is the level of difficulty a shopper needs to go through in order to obtain this value
  • Emotion is how happy or dissatisfied a customer feels about the experience

Context-based personalization increases value and ease for your shoppers, leading to more positive emotions and a better overall shopping experience.

Contexts change with every passing moment; can your personalization model keep up?

The future of personalization relies on having an infrastructure that evolves and changes alongside shoppers’ contexts. One that knows them so well, a shopper can see the most relevant, inspiring products with the fewest possible clicks.

With virtually every other form of media already providing context-based service (think Netflix, social media, and music streaming apps), ecommerce needs to keep up. With the right technology and a customer-centric strategy, this is achievable.

Ofer Fryman is co-founder and CEO of Syte