March 8, 2007, 12:00 AM

Web site personalization could be on the rise, thanks to technology

A recent survey shows 34% of e-retailers plan to add web site personalization 2007. Maternity apparel retailer, for example, is gathering data on its expectant parent customers with data mining, page registration and survey tools.

Web site personalization is gaining momentum again as e-retailers turn to improving technology to help them nurture customer relationships. Maternity apparel retailer, for example, is gathering data on its expectant parent customers with data mining, page registration and survey tools.

When customers return the site populates shipping page data, retains shopping cart items and presents personalized products, says Albert DiPadova, who co-founded the business with his wife Shannon in 2004. “We’re trying to go one step further and allowing customers to pick up where they left off,” he explains.

San Francisco-based Due Maternity has four stores in addition to the web site and it gathers online shopper data by asking shoppers to register. The company sorts customers by their due date and tailors their personalized messages and promotions accordingly to before and after their baby is born. For instance, expectant parents might receive a message about skin care while a post-birth message would address nursing products.

Web site personalization has been around as long as retailers have been selling products online, but its use is by no means universal. Preliminary results of the Sixth Annual Merchant Survey by The E-Tailing Group Inc. indicate most e-retailers aren’t plumbing the depths of web site personalization technology. Only 48% of 150 respondents are doing a “limited amount” of web personalization, while 32% said they greet returning customers by name.

“At the end of the day, it’s very rudimentary,” says Lauren Freedman, president of the research and consulting firm. “E-commerce is all about prioritization. E-retailers have a lot to do and site personalization has not risen to the top,” she says.

While 15% of respondents said they have no plans to add site personalization, 34% plan to add the function in 2007.

Most e-retailers agree that site personalization is important, yet many place other e-commerce projects higher on their to-do lists. Still, they generally agree that when they embark on web site personalization it must go beyond the traditional “Welcome ‘Customer Name’” concept.

Most e-retailers have every intention of going beyond the basic site personalization tools, says Chad Doiron, senior strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consulting firm specializing in strategic planning and marketing. “We see them working to leverage the technology to their advantage, and many are in the early stages of execution,” he says. “They now have technological capabilities to improve data management, and the cleanliness of data, to get valid analysis and input on customers, in order to make buying recommendations.”

For some e-retailers, site personalization technology is in hand, but not the plan for how it will be used. For example, e-retailers that use web analytics to draw on customer buying data must decide how to use the data to construct specific promotions, Doiron says. “It’s not so much a technology question-whether they are able to do it-but it’s understanding what kind of offer they want to make,” he says.

For instance, e-retailers that base promotions on customer shopping history, which Doiron asserts not all of them look at, have to decide whether to extrapolate their perception of the customer’s intentions or just offer a shirt similar to what they bought before. “It comes down to a question more of what they are doing than what they want to do,” he says. “They have a database, computing horsepower, sales information and a historical perspective. They have to use those tools to decide the best offer to make and then execute it with the customer.”

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