If anyone in online retail still thinks personalisation is the answer, they are asking the wrong question.
Personalisation is not the be all and end all for online merchandising. Yet there are numerous plug and play personalisation solution providers, backed by seemingly impressive proof metrics, selling their wares to wide-eyed retailers.
Personalisation or Relevance
Personalisation is very often limited to specific e-commerce site elements. Recommendations for instance, might include an element of personalisation in terms of the product assortment presented. Similarly, search features such as 'Did you mean?' and 'Autocomplete' may be partly driven by standalone personalisation, and the same may apply to banner advertising – though this is notorious for displaying products that consumers have already bought.
Relevance is about the entire on-site experience: from the moment a consumer arrives, through every subsequent interaction. It is not about sprinkling personalisation over the journey.
Does it really matter?
Yes, because rather than merely providing periodic personalised steps on an e-commerce site, the entire customer experience needs to track the shopper intelligently and identify exactly what is of optimum relevance at each and every separate interaction from the second they land.
Where are we now?
For most e-commerce sites there are disparate vendors delivering 'plug and play' solutions designed solely for search, or solely for recommendations and so on. They are rarely complementary and don't work together to share data intelligently. If these 'plugins' treat personalisation differently, can they truly deliver a consistently relevant experience?
How can retailers deliver optimum relevance?
Retailers need to rethink their approach to 'personalisation'. In fact, they need to stop thinking of personalisation as an end in itself. It is merely part of a means to an end – the goal being to deliver online shopping experiences that are optimised for relevance, and for every customer. The only way to do that is to take a holistic approach. To recognise that relevance is about the entire context, not just small, siloed elements.
Ideally, that retailer also needs to understand the context of every visit. Is the customer shopping for herself or for a child, a parent or a friend?
This can only be understood via a single view of each customer, with in-session clicks and views collected and understood in real time – the specific nature of 'unusual' or untypical behaviour will enable relevance to be tweaked according to a genuine understanding of visitor intention. This insight, gathered via a single solution, can then drive a fully optimised experience, with intelligent, automated product exposure working consistently across recommendations, top seller lists, search, navigation, banners, content and more –not only according to personal preference, but reflecting context too.
Personalisation without relevance is largely irrelevant. eCommerce is about evolution, not revolution and smart retailers, those already one step ahead on the road from personalisation with relevance, will gain lasting competitive advantage.