Five steps to a shopper-centric discovery experience

April 3, 2014

By Garrett Eastham

CEO of Compare Metrics

In today's retail world, technology is constantly advancing to make the online shopping experience more of just that – an experience. And, consumer expectations for that experience are evolving from them being okay with a "one-size fits most" approach to one tailored "just for me."

Considering that 51 percent of shoppers feel that it's important for brands to ask them about their needs and only 10 percent of consumers feel that brands are putting in enough of an effort to get to know them, it's time for merchants to open up the conversation to their shoppers for more transparency and collaboration. If the retail industry wants to keep up with customer expectations, they need to invite their shoppers to participate in creating a more personalized online experience that consumers so clearly value – put the person back in personalization.

We've pegged the five most effective steps for creating a shopper-centric discovery process that is a missing piece of most retailers' personalization strategy.

Step 1: Create a shared vocabulary

The first step to including your shopper in the personalization process is to ensure that you understand each other, and that means being able to speak the same language.

Industry estimates tell us that up to 40 percent of all search terms are unique, setting the bar high for retailers' "listening" abilities. Expanded product merchandising data and site tools that can use it to translate shoppers' expressed preferences are key. A recent study found that sites with semantic-based search options have a 2 percent shopping cart abandonment rate as compared to 40 percent on sites that only offer plain text search, so speaking the same language and providing a relevant response is clearly an effective way to understand what customers want and to drive purchases.

Step 2: Let your customers drive

Your shoppers could be coming to you as browsers with very little specificity, or they may be coming to you with a certain product in mind for a particular occasion. Retailers that provide customers with multiple ways to navigate products and offer a flexible interface to self-select the most suitable discovery options put the shopper in the driver's seat of the personalization process. Milestones, events and lifestyles drive shoppers' lives, so it is important to give customers the opportunity to express their needs and customize their own buying path. This does not include a one-size-fits all sorting and filtering solution.

Step 3: Extend the relationship

Appreciation goes a long way, and by saving discovery preferences and offering tailored navigation, retailers build brand loyalty and strengthen long-term customer relationships.

Additionally, when shoppers explicitly build a query or customize their navigation on your site, retailers must realize they are pinpointing their preferences and expressing themselves in the process. If shoppers are going through the effort to share their interests with retailers, retailers need to go through the effort to remember what they've said. This creates opportunities to connect at a deeper level with each customer far beyond just the website.

Step 4: Analyze, optimize and repeat

A natural part of the communication process is feedback. When shoppers tweak their discovery criteria and ultimately find and purchase a product, retailers are provided with a rich set of information about what that individual user, as well as other users, may be interested in and why. Tracking these interactions at an individual and segment level can identify important new merchandising keywords, spot trends, and optimizations needed. Incorporating this information into ongoing merchandising and marketing strategies leads to a more effective and impactful customer shopping experience.

Step 5: Amplify

By allowing your shoppers to customize their journey and inform retailers about their unique preferences, the retail community collects massive amounts of highly personalized data. Retailers can use this data to fuel and improve the effectiveness of other merchandising, marketing, search and personalization efforts, as it's an opportunity to make "big data" work across an entire retail organization.

Consumers are signaling they are open to sharing more personal data when they immediately see benefit. Inviting them to participate in personalizing their navigation and product discovery path is a bold step retailers can take that's mutually beneficial. Invite your customers back to the personalization process.

(Photo by Keith Williamson.)

Topics: Consumer Behavior , Marketing , Online Retailing , Technology

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