June 13, 2008, 12:00 AM

Fictional personas can offer retailers real-world results

Developing personas can offer a valuable way for retailers to understand their customers’ behaviors and needs. Using personas has helped skin care manufacturer and retailer H2O Plus boost sales annually 15% to 20%, said a company marketing executive.

Understanding who customers are can help retailers tailor marketing efforts and web features that will appeal to those customers, said Adam Heneghan, president of Elevation Inc., a marketing and web design agency, at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition this week. He told attendees at the workshop “Using Personas to Pinpoint a Shopper’s Needs” that a good way to understand customers is by developing personas.

Personas are fictional characters that reflect real characteristics-such as income, age, gender and occupation-of particular customer segments. These characteristics are derived from information gleaned through surveys, interviews, field studies, call centers and customer e-mail, said Heneghan who has developed personas for skin care manufacturer and retailer H2O Plus LP, which is No. 482 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

H2O Plus director of business development Jim McLaughlin joined Heneghan at the workshop and credited the use of personas for helping to boost the company’s annual sales 15% to 20%. This research can produce results that surprise the retailer, as when H2O Plus learned that 20% of its customers were college students, said McLaughlin.

Once they understand the kind of consumer shopping their sites, online retailers can tailor site features or marketing initiatives around the typical behavior and buying patterns of these personas, said Heneghan. “A designer would sit down and think about how often to contact the customer. If we know they respond to special promotions, we want to make sure when we’re doing those types of offers, we offer them at the right time,” said Heneghan.

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