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Context is the future of ecommerce personalisation

Context is the future of ecommerce personalisation

We all know personalisation is crucial for providing a great customer experience, converting shoppers, and earning long-term loyalty. But the way we define personalisation is in serious need of an update.

You see, the traditional approach to providing personalised product recommendations — which is based on data such as age, gender, and previous on-site behaviour — will almost certainly miss the mark for customers and deliver weak business results. 

The reason why, is that it’s missing one of the most important factors of tending to a person’s needs: context.

True personalisation, or “hyper-personalisation,” not only accounts for a shopper’s taste and demographics, but it also stays up-to-date with their changing needs, moods, and intentions on every visit.

In the next frontier of the customer experience, the true measure of effective personalisation will be your ability to understand individual shoppers’ current contexts, and deliver exactly what they are looking for in the moment of need. 

The Definition of CX is Under Constant Evolution — And Most Personalisation Engines Are Not Equipped to Keep Up

Imagine after several months, you receive an email from your favourite fashion retailer to look for some new jeans and sweaters. Last time you bought something from this store was over the summer, when you purchased two bathing suits and sunglasses. Because of your prior behaviour on the site, all of the recommendations you see are for bathing suits and coverups instead of the winter weather clothes you need. 

Or, imagine you’ve bought a new suit jacket a couple of days ago, and now you’re on the hunt for some tops to go underneath. Now, recommendations for the most comfortable T’s and blouses would be relevant for you, but you’re still being emailed a bunch of business wear.

In both scenarios, the personalisation engine is doing exactly what it was trained to do: it’s surfacing items you previously indicated you like. But as soon as your context shifts, it’s useless. 

Shoppers’ contexts can change in nano-seconds, even within the same session. Unless your predictive personalisation software (PPS) can keep up in real-time, you will be unable to offer relevant recommendations that actually get your shopper to buy.

Moreover, irrelevant recommendations:

a) take up real estate from relevant items shoppers might want to buy, and 

b) add friction and distractions to the customer journey

This is one of the biggest issues with the customer experience today — it’s not built to evolve. What was considered a great customer experience last week may no longer satisfy a shopper’s needs. 

Provide context-based personalisation for a truly personalised CX

Consumers’ demands continuously shift based on their current contexts, and they expect their interactions with a brand or retailer to react accordingly.

To provide a truly personalised customer experience, brands and retailers must go beyond what a shopper likes and tap into their current intentions and needs. 

Here are three things you need to master to achieve hyper-personalisation.

1. Listen to the product, not the person

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the way to avoid irrelevant demographic-based recommendations is by forgetting the person, and focusing on the products they view, click on, and purchase. Within your product metadata — if it’s sufficiently enriched — lies a wellspring of information about your shoppers’ aesthetic preferences and tastes. And that information is as up-to-date as their most recent actions both on your site, and their reaction to your communications. 

After all, a 35-year-old woman from Surrey could easily be shopping for her favourite perfume. Demographic “wisdom” may suggest showing her your best sellers, or ones with the largest margin, but those recommendations would miss the mark so completely as to be a nuisance if she totally brand loyal find her “usual’ quickly. 

Instead, if your software were to consider the fine details of the items she’s viewing within every session, for example, the material, width, and pattern of the products she’s browsed through, you’re PPS solution would select exactly the most relevant product recommendations to send to her. 

Traditional personalisation has a blind spot for these fine deals, and for unpacking a shopper’s context in real-time. But today’s shoppers expect to be understood and catered to even when they’ve strayed from their usual shopping patterns. 

With technologies like PPS, you can gain a deeper understanding of that individual. It’s not just about what they like, and when, but machine learning the nuances of that purchase too. How long did the decision making process take, that alternatives were considered how many times sis she visit the item she eventually bout, how long did she look at it for?

Unlike conventional solutions, PPS actually learns about every individual shopper’s unique style and taste by analysing the visual attributes of the items they interact with. This insight — which becomes sharper and more on-point over time — functions like a long-time personal shopping assistant who understands exactly what that individual customer is looking for.

2. Use Connected Data to Provide Context-Based Personalisation at Every Touchpoint

The customer experience is holistic. A person’s perception of a brand or retailer is the cumulation of every touchpoint he or she has had with them — from browsing on-site to scrolling past their ads on Instagram to receiving emails to entice their revisit to you, above your peers on other websites.

Nothing signals to a consumer that you have completely disregarded their context like a fragmented omnichannel experience. 

Your PPS email recommendations will have piqued their interest, but if your next marketing email offers completely unrelated products, they won’t click. Not only that, but they will think, This brand really doesn’t get me. Not only that, but you’ve just wasted a valuable opportunity to convert the shopper with products they would have actually loved and wanted to buy. PPS perpetually updates, and your customers never suffer this indignity.

Instead of relying on outdated or generic data, PPS captures granular details about each of the products your shoppers interact with on-site. This enables hyper-personalised recommendations that evolve as a shopper’s context changes, even within a single session. 

So, if in-session behavioural data tells you that a shopper is looking for a suit, PPS data enables you to utilise the deeper-dive which is that they’re only really interested in grey, single-breasted suits.

PPS can typically run alongside your email service provider (ESP) as it is imminent purchase focused, therefore promotions and incentives are omitted, this ensures all products recommended align with shopper taste and context, while maintaining the highest perpetual subscriber rate by not maligning their allegiances to you by coercion and potential hyper-sensitivity to those things. 

3. Make empathy your anchor

The most profound lessons in ecommerce is that empathy is paramount to providing a great customer experience. In fact, empathy and personalisation go hand in hand. 

Having empathy means understanding the feelings and needs of others. 

Context-based PPS personalisation is the ultimate form of “ecommerce empathy.” Only by understanding your shoppers’ current contexts as they change in real-time can you truly fulfill their needs. 

In the digital world, an empathetic customer experience covers the three E’s: effectiveness, ease, and emotion.

  • Effectiveness refers to the amount of value a shopper can get from a shopping experience
  • Ease is the level of difficulty a shopper needs to go through in order to obtain this value
  • Emotion is how happy or dissatisfied a customer feels about the experience

Context-based PPS personalisation increases value and ease for your shoppers, leading to more positive emotions and a better overall shopping experience.

It’s worth noting that while each of the E’s is of vital importance, emotion has the strongest influence on the way a shopper judges his or her experience. According to Forrester’s CX Index study, emotion is the biggest contributor to a person’s perception of their customer experience in 20 out of 21 industries.

Contexts change with every passing moment. Can your personalisation model keep up?

You hear it all the time — consumers’ standards for the customer experience are constantly rising. That may be so, but the more important thing to focus on is how their contexts are constantly changing.

Forget meeting rising standards if your CX can’t decipher a shopper’s basic needs.

The future of personalisation relies on having an infrastructure that evolves and changes alongside shoppers’ contexts. One that knows them so well, a shopper can see the most relevant, inspiring products as soon as it hits their inbox. 

With virtually every other form of media already providing context-based service (think: Netflix, social media, and music-streaming apps), ecommerce needs to keep up. With the right technology and a customer-centric CX strategy, this is achievable. 

SwiftERM is a Microsoft Partner company. A free trial of PPS software is available here.

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