E-commerce managers face many challenges, but perhaps the hardest challenge of all is knowing which are the most important. Often a manager might have a good idea as to what the burning issues are, but sometimes other considerations come into play which mean they get bumped down the list. Political expediency often being one such factor.

But what if there’s a problem that all retailers face, which has a significant bearing on their bottom line, but which is rarely recognised or understood? Is there such an elephant in the room?

I would argue yes. Working in the space that we do, we’re privileged in that we get to speak to a lot of retailers, and they often share with us their strategies and discuss the challenges they’re trying to overcome. But the one thing we’re not hearing is ‘low product exposure’ and the challenge of showing the right products to the right customers.

This is really surprising and somewhat alarming. There’s a lot of talks currently about personalisation and gaining a single customer view, but when you dig a little deeper into retailer’s rationale there’s very little substance. Rarely do personalisation programmes identify specific marketing and merchandising use cases in the initial business case. And when anything close to a use case emerges it usually refers to some aspect of the customer experience, not to a business objective or challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that retail is becoming more customer-centric, but at what point did retailers forget the last 60 years of experience in physical retail and completely ignore their primary goal, which is to sell products?

Personalisation is really, really important, but I don’t think retailers are understanding why. If you hold several thousand products and customers only see a few hundred (each time they visit), then why oh why would you show the same products to all customers? Clearly not all customers are interested in the same products, and they don’t all share the same shopping intents. Yet if you examine the most trafficked pages of most retail sites you will see that that’s exactly what they are doing…showing the same products to all customers.

In a high street shop window, all shoppers see the same thing, because that’s a constraint of the physical world we live in. But online?

If you’re reading this and are about to embark on a big personalisation or customer experience programme, I implore you… please, please review your business case and examine your use cases. If there’s a plethora of sentiments relating to ‘improving the customer experience’ but an absence of specific use cases relating to how this will be achieved via the intelligent placement of products then you need to think again.

If you’re successful at managing product assortments, the customer experience will naturally improve. Because that’s retail!

Author: Michael Mokhberi CEO and Co-founder