The first wave of ecommerce mainly meant transitioning what was sold in stores to online. This added convenience and broadened the offering to the consumer but there was little change to the experience beyond that. Just like early television amounted to little more than ‘radio on screen,’ as channels and production companies failed to adapt properly to the new medium from the outset, this bare minimum is exactly what many retailers continue to deliver – simply transplanting their in-store sales online.
Welcome, then, to e-commerce 2.0! The second wave of ecommerce will be about harnessing digital technologies to deliver a better, more personalised experience direct to the consumer through online platforms. The ecommerce 2.0 companies will then be able to provide personalisation at scale – an offering that has traditionally been challenging to deliver in-store.
For those looking to harness this opportunity, here are four ways personalisation can be used to get ahead of the pack:
Personalised products at scale
Product personalisation has often been reserved for novelty products, such as tea mugs or keyrings, or super high-end, bespoke items, for which delivery times tend to be long. Unless the personalisation is available off the shelf, a consumer would typically have to place their personalisation order in-store and return after a few hours or days to pick up the product.
Ecommerce has enabled a volume and speed of personalisation for high-end products that is simply impossible to achieve in an in-store environment. The likes of My 1st Years, Monica Vinader, and mycs are showing how premium baby gifts, jewellery, and furniture respectively can be personalised at scale with minimal delay over non-personalised items. There is no reason why other retail brands can’t follow suit.
The real personalisation of communication
Modern life is busy enough. AI-powered technology can make people’s lives that little bit easier by sending reminders and gift suggestions. Ultimately, customers want to feel unique and special, even if the helping hand comes not from a human, but from an algorithm. A McKinsey report found that consumers generally have a positive attitude toward receiving personalised messages from retailers. And according to Accenture, 91 per cent of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognise and remember them and who provide relevant offers and recommendations.
This includes everything from updates on an order’s status, to special offers, to remembering previous purchases connected to key events, such as a wedding anniversary or a niece’s birthday. After all, the propensity to buy something else after a personalised prompt, such as “Do you need to buy a gift for Jane again?”, tends to be much higher. And it doesn’t always have to come via the ubiquitous email – forward-thinking retailers are increasingly communicating via SMS or WhatsApp, inserting themselves more smoothly into the flow of customers’ increasingly mobile lives.
The democratisation of the “personal shopper”
Personal shoppers used to be an exclusive service offered only to the wealthiest clients at the most premium stores. Recent years have seen many retailers introduce ‘personal shopper’-style services to the online consumer. Retailers are integrating chatbots and virtual personal assistants into their platforms to give a ‘human’ face to online interactions with consumers. It is becoming increasingly important to give customers the reassurance that personalised help and advice is available whenever and wherever they want it.
Marks & Spencer, for instance, now sends customers tailored fashion digests via its personal stylist service, Try Tuesday. Intu online uses GoInStore to connect online customers with Intu’s in-store staff to answer questions, give advice, and make recommendations. In the online-only space, Thread in particular has proved very successful at using AI and machine learning to provide the busy ‘ordinary’ customer with the kind of high-end stylist services usually reserved for the wealthiest clients in-store.
Personalised website journey
Finally, tailoring the look-and-feel of the website for each consumer can lead to a better consumer experience and hence higher conversion and more repeat purchases. The content and layout of the website can be adjusted to reflect the consumer’s browsing behaviour, their time and location, the items they click on, their purchasing history, etc. A personalised site layout allows the user to quickly access the content that is most relevant for them.
The travel industry is further ahead on this. Some travel websites already optimise their sites, including the most relevant offers, based on a user’s interests. The fashion industry is ripe for similar innovation that makes a genuine difference to how consumers shop. Why not highlight party clothes and same-day delivery for a customer that typically browses on Friday? This requires an investment in technology, but the cost of not doing so could be much higher. An Accenture survey found that 48 per cent of all consumers have left a business’s website and made a purchase on another site or in-store simply because it was poorly curated.
In summary, ecommerce 2.0 will deliver a more personalised experience to the shopper, from the products and service to the communication and journey. Retail brands should embrace tech- and data-driven personalisation initiatives throughout their operations. Not doing so might mean they go out of fashion as quickly as next season’s must-have trend.
Author: Maria Wagner, investment director at venture capital firm Beringea
Image credit: Fotolia