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Three steps to strategic e-commerce recommendations

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by Darren Hitchcock

Personalised recommendations are one of the most powerful tools an e-commerce company can use. Not only can a personalisation strategy improve conversion rates and revenue opportunities, it gives retailers the ability to connect with shoppers on a deeper level, strengthening customer relationships and increasing their lifetime value. This is immediately apparent when a returning shopper lands on a Home Page and is greeted with relevant hints to their preferences.

But for every retailer that is implementing personalised recommendations effectively, there is another that is missing the mark. When done incorrectly, recommendations can be time consuming, constrained, difficult to scale and ineffective in driving sales. In the worst cases, poorly executed recommendations can even damage the customer experience if irrelevant or self-serving recommendations are presented.

That can all sound rather frightening, but it doesn’t have to be. When done strategically recommendations are not a risky proposition and the revenue increases can be substantial. In this article I’ll take a look at placement, message and design, three important keys to getting recommendations right.


Having recommendations visible at each step of the shopping process—from the homepage through to purchase confirmation—fuels personalised navigation and helps to build a continuous personalisation experience. Integrations with site-wide recommendation placement see significant incremental revenue when compared to lighter implementations (recommendations limited to a few pages).

Best practices include:

• Leverage the analytical fact that recommendations generate greater ROI than ads and other non-navigation elements; prioritise placements accordingly, moving less profitable elements down if necessary. Test placements through built-in mvt approaches to find the most suitable

• Each recommendation set should display at least three products (except product pairing recommendations, which can display two or more products).

• Use multiple recommendation placements. Using a minimum of two per page type will increase customer engagement and your cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, significantly improving the probability of conversion.


The message you use to present recommendations will have a significant impact on their effectiveness. At RichRelevance we deliver more than 65 different types of recommendations. Rather than employing static, vague messaging such as “May we suggest” or “You may also like,” each recommendation reflects a clear and transparent message, so that customers understand why something is being recommended (“People that searched for digital slr camera ultimately bought…” or use of product data such as “Shoppers that liked slim fit shirts also liked brand x”). The customer trusts the recommendation because it relates to his or her individual needs and behaviours; at the same time, the merchant accomplishes specific business objectives. The result? Increased conversions, items per order and sales: enhanced customer confidence and interaction and reduced customer service inquiries.

When planning your message strategy, consider:

• Customise recommendation messages to suit a retail category, site text or unique customer base. Recommendation types should evolve throughout the customer’s purchase process.

• Take into consideration every piece of information you have on a customer when choosing a message. Even first time shoppers can be provided with more relevant recommendations when referral site and location are factored in.


You want your recommendations to get noticed by your customers. While basic recommendation design can draw from your site’s existing headers, menu styles and font type, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to incite your customer to a call to action.

Design elements to consider include:

• Incorporate ratings and reviews with recommendations.

• Place recommendation messaging in brightly coloured headers

• Use product scrollers to incorporate more recommendations.

• Use a solid background for a high contrast text effect

• Use dividing lines instead of borders to separate each product

• Display product details on the right, using bright font colours

Recommendation placements can be vertical or horizontal in orientation to accommodate multiple navigational pathways. Verticals can be tucked under navigation menus, and horizontals can be easily placed under product descriptions.

Picking the wrong course for implementing recommendations is costly in both time and resources. A well-implemented solution should optimise the productivity of the merchandising team. By considering these topics as you design your strategy, you’ll be able to effectively deliver recommendations that are relevant, personalised and capable of increasing revenue and customer loyalty.

Darren Hitchcock is VP of UK and European territories for RichRelevance

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