Personalized recommendations aren’t just for the big ecommerce marketers

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Amazon is well-known for sending emails just for you. But a business doesn’t have to be Amazon-sized to successfully deploy the same strategy.

Do you remember the first time you surfed on Amazon and got a product recommendation?

It kind of felt like you had a personal shopper right there at the computer reading your mind. Unless you got a suggestion for a North American Field Guide to Bird Watching when you spent time checking out reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Awkward recommendations aside, pitches based on browse and buying patterns gave ecommerce giants an edge that seemed insurmountable.

But that edge is fading.

Browse abandonment and product recommendations are becoming cost-effective must-haves for even modest-sized ecommerce retailers. The key to being able to deploy these techniques is ease-of-use. But first, let’s make the case for them.

The No. 1 request of marketers in a recent ClickZ research report was the ability to use dynamic content, a key feature of recommendation software. And the No. 1 challenge? Having the time and resources to implement email personalization, according to 46.9% of respondents.

But I’d argue that the way bigger ecommerce retailers have used the technique is both expensive and ineffective. The minute some commerce marketers had this ability, they set up automations that acted like a cudgel, bashing you over the head with retargeted ads for shoes, swimsuits and shirts similar to what you browsed on, both on their site and others. After a while, it feels like having a needy toddler yelling, “Come look at me, come look at me!” We tune them out.

jamesvanderbeek-attention

It turns out that personalized email is actually quite effective. The fear that customers would be bothered by a “Did you forget about the face cream in your cart?” message wasn’t warranted. In fact, the opposite is true. Research suggests that within three months of using cart recovery, retailers typically see nine times the return on investment from remarketing to shoppers who’ve abandoned their carts.

So, let’s stop using browse abandonment and product recommendations apps to chase customers all over the web. Instead, deploy the techniques similar to cart abandonment messaging: email shoppers to encourage them to revisit your site and check out those items they’ve been browsing on, or offer recommendations for similar items. More importantly, use the techniques to not just sell more — but sell smarter.

Browse abandonment and recommendation emails need to be personalized in ways that make sense for your organization, and that can be done without the expense of complex integrations and an expanding team of IT specialists. But don’t settle for a one-size-fits-all approach. You need flexibility and automation that:

  • Delivers one-to-one recommendations. The recommendations should combine contact, order and browse behavior data with lots of filtering choices. Examples include
    “customers who bought this, bought that;” “recommended products in your preferred brand;” and “you might like…” Multi-brand ecommerce marketers need different choices from marketers who only sell their own brand.
  • Drives profit. Do you want to move low average order value customers into a higher tier? Adjust the filters to show high-margin items within a shopper’s area of interest. Have a product customers buy again and again? Sell out faster with an “almost out-of-stock” email.

almost out of stock email

  • Tells you how you’re doing. Don’t rely on gut in deploying sophisticated recommendations. Make sure you have reporting that shows what is effective and split by rule, popular products and traffic trends. The information needs to be kept at the contact level (yep, the individual email) to positively impact segmentations and workflows going forward.
  • Is easy to use. Smaller- and mid-tier ecommerce companies need options that require minimal set-up, consulting and IT support. For so many companies in this space, there is just one person responsible for ecommerce. The good news is that browse abandonment and product recommendations are easier to set up than cart abandonment because it doesn’t involve pulling in price information. And cart abandonment has been successfully deployed by small companies with only one dedicated ecommerce specialist.

For years, businesses have talked about the value of keeping customers versus acquiring new ones. Recommendation and browse abandonment fits snugly into that strategy. It has given giant companies an edge, but the techniques are increasingly accessible to smaller companies. It’s time to give it a try.

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