Creating the world’s most personalised retail website

Shop Direct mobile shopping tablet shoppingToday’s consumers have high expectations when it comes to online shopping. Having experienced the level of uniquely tailored recommendations and content offered by large industry players like Amazon and eBay, shoppers now expect a similar standard from their other brands of choice. As a result, increasing numbers of retailers are striving to meet these expectations, with Shop Direct leading the pack.

Shop Direct recently announced that it has hired its first Customer Director to drive its personalisation strategy, with the aim of creating the world’s most personalised website. The multi-brand online retailer, which operates brands including Littlewoods, Isme and Very (pictured), has illustrated a growing trend in the e-commerce world – giving personalisation high priority, and investing in it accordingly as a central part of its digital strategy.

But what would it really take to create the world’s most personalised website – and how can other retailers learn from Shop Direct’s example?

Maximise customer interaction at every touchpoint
It is now common knowledge that a customer’s experience on a retailer’s website consists of far more than just the homepage and checkout process – a good shopping experience also relies on customers feeling that they are valued and listened to. For this reason, maximising interaction at every touchpoint is essential for engaging shoppers in what will hopefully be a strong connection with a brand.

Many retailers who have excelled in terms of personalisation have used email to great effect for this purpose, such as ASOS – giving what could have been a dull, corporate mail-out a friendly, light-hearted touch.

Allowing customers to leave reviews and rate products they have purchased is another way to include them in the shopping process and make them feel that their voices are being heard. Customer reviews can also be used directly by retailers to inform them of any particular recurring problems or good feedback, and this can be used to drive merchandising and recommendations.

Personalisation does not begin and end online – retailers should focus on giving equal attention to both digital and bricks-and-mortar touchpoints, so that the customer gets a rich and enhanced shopping experience however they choose to interact with a brand. In-store personalisation is quickly becoming a reality, so it won’t be too long before high street retailers are able to provide personalised recommendations within their physical stores.

Aim to treat customers as individuals, not as groups
Although to the uninitiated the term ‘personalisation’ would imply that retailers are catering to individuals, in practice this usually means that customers are divided into subsections with similar lifestyles, interests and shopping habits. For example, a retailer might have its customers divided by gender and age, but will also take into account shopping history and types of preferred products to create a more detailed picture of who they are dealing with when an individual visits their site.

Personalised product recommendations rely on these sub-groups in order to show customers the content that is likely to be relevant to them, but the long-term aim should always be to strive for catering to each customer individually.

In its bid to create the world’s best personalised website, Shop Direct will no doubt be further refining their categories and building up a very accurate picture of the many types of customer it has – the more attention given to this side of a strategy, the more customers will feel as though the shopping experience has been created just for them.

Use human insight, not just software
In appointing a dedicated Customer Director whose sole responsibility is to focus on improving personalisation, Shop Direct already has an advantage over the majority of its fellow retailers; analytics software can be very useful, but nothing beats a real person’s ability to use logic, reason and common sense to decipher patterns of data in order to form helpful insights from them.

Of course, many retailers currently don’t have the resources needed to hire someone in for the specific task of improving personalisation – this role is often covered by internal staff with other jobs to attend to, meaning that it often gets overlooked or neglected altogether.

As budgets are inevitably shifted around to move with the times, retailers are likely to start following in Shop Direct’s footsteps, recognising the importance of having a human mind to make sense of figures gathered by software.

Shop Direct is certainly on track to achieving the world’s most personalised website – the etailer recently announced its first pre-tax profit in ten years, and stated that “personalisation will form the core of the company’s growth strategy for the next five years.” This indicates Shop Direct’s commitment to creating unique shopping experiences for its customers, something that is critical in the digital age.

Tim Street is Business Development Director EMEA at personalisation technology company MyBuys.

  • Gregory Cornelius

    The article’s observation to treat customers as individuals rather than members of groups (market segments) is one I agree with. Market segments were useful when we didn’t have so much computer power at our disposal. Now that we do business should build increasing levels personalisation across all industries. One to one marketing should be the rule not the exception.

    Secondly, the observation about human insight on the business side is half right. But nothing beats the insights of consumers about their purchase intent. Instead of ‘reading the digital tea leaves’ marketeers ought to ask their customers directly about their purchase intent and respond accordingly.