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Internet Retailing 2011 Interview: Sam Peterson, Overstock.com

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Each week in the run-up to our annual conference, Internet Retailing 2011, we talk to one of the key speakers at the event to give you a preview of what they have to say. This week it’s the turn of Sam Peterson, SVP, technology and merchandising, at O.co, also known as Overstock.com.

Internet Retailing: Tell me a little about O.co and how it has used personalisation as a way of generating revenue?



Sam Peterson: O.co, also known as Overstock.com, offers brand-name products at discount prices. The company offers its customers an opportunity to shop for bargains conveniently. We pride ourselves in our 360-degree view of the customer, and use personalisation to maximise customer interaction at every touchpoint—not just through standard onsite recommendations and emails, but through other personalisation innovations as well.

Our Visual Search tool enables the casual shopper to intuitively browse our online aisles; when a shopper clicks on a product, an interactive grid automatically sorts and prioritises related items based on what was clicked, inspiring quick and easy product discovery. My Recommendations targets our most loyal customers by delivering a page of customised recommendations based on recent search, browse and purchase history, thereby ensuring that we never lose sight of the subset of customers that delivers a big portion of our revenue.

Our personalisation initiatives are complemented by our award-winning customer service, ensuring that the revenue generated through personalisation is also preserved by cultivating the lifetime value of each O.co customer.

IR: Why do ecommerce businesses in general need to know about/think about personalisation?

SP: Personalisation has become such a large part of the online experience with customers. Consumers want to feel welcome to a website and want to be able to find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently. Any ecommerce business that does not incorporate personalisation into their user experience will be left behind. With the Visual Search tool on O.co customers are able to shop with ease.

Do you think most ecommerce businesses could benefit from using it or, indeed, learn from what RecLab is doing?

Ecommerce businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to both benefit and learn from the RecLab initiative. For the first time ever, researchers from around the world will be able to submit their best recommendation algorithms to be run in an actual, real-time shopping environment—on O.co—to see how much they boost actual purchases.

Similar to the US-based Netflix Prize from a few years ago, RecLab affords researchers access to large-scale data that they can use to evaluate the effectiveness of recommendation algorithms—with the crucial difference that instead of testing on offline data, researchers bring their code directly to interact with real live shoppers—without violating their trust and privacy. O.co is proud to play a role in helping to speed innovation in online retail product recommendations, while offering a very substantial prize (up to US $1 million) to the winning researcher and affiliated institution.

IR: What single piece of advice would you give businesses who are just starting to think about this area?

SP: Quit thinking about personalisation and act. Businesses have to know their customers and need to provide the personalised shopping experience. There are several great solutions out there in the market to help you get started immediately.

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