March 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Expanding the reach of personalization

To do this successfully, a retailer must be able to compile data about what a consumer has viewed and bought online, and what she may have purchased in the retailer’s stores. The last thing a retailer wants to do is recommend a product to a site visitor that she has just bought in-store. Similarly, an e-mail message promoting that already purchased product will seem awfully lame. So collecting information about that shopper at all touchpoints is critical for effective personalization.

“Personalization strategies must be fully integrated across each sales and marketing channel so that retailers know what products currently interest the shopper and what the shopper may have purchased through another sales channel in order to make the right recommendation regardless of the point of interaction,” says John Squire, chief strategy officer for Coremetrics, provider of marketing optimization applications. “Retailers that apply personalization only to the web store are missing out on opportunities to create compelling shopping experiences through all consumer touchpoints.”

Following up

A retailer that can link together information about a customer collected in various channels is in a position to follow up a purchase made in one channel, such as a store or e-commerce site, with a marketing message in another, such as a marketing e-mail. For instance, if a shopper has purchased a high-definition television online and looked at stands for the TV without buying one, the merchant can send her an e-mail for the TV stands she viewed after the TV purchase.

“Sending a follow-up e-mail after a purchase for an accessory a customer likely wants can boost e-mail open and click-through rates and close out a cross-sell opportunity the retailer was not able to complete at the time of purchase,” says Steve Johnson, CEO and co-founder for personalization solution provider ChoiceStream Inc. “Personalization is about reminding consumers of what they want to buy and presenting them with the opportunity to make the purchase.”

Timely and relevant product recommendations through each point of interaction with customers can differentiate retailers from their competitors. And standing out in some way other than by slashing prices is more important than ever now that consumers have become so familiar with comparison shopping online. Just as consumers are likely to buy more from a store where sales associates know her tastes and what she’s bought before, even if the store does not offer rock-bottom prices, so, too, will online shoppers buy more from e-retailers that know their customers. And that means knowing a lot about each customer and being able to put that information to use.

“When competitors have access to the same inventory, they typically differentiate on price, and that is getting harder to do because of price competition,” says Bob Cell, CEO of MyBuys Inc., provider of personalized product recommendation services. “Understanding the brands consumers favor, the type of products they want, colors they like, and price points at which they buy, and leveraging that information to make individualized recommendations consumers will respond to beyond the web store is what will differentiate retailers.”

Better Facebook pages

Retailers have recognized that consumers do much more than shop online. They also use the web to do research and to interact with each other, as well as to amuse themselves. Retailer-sponsored blogs can be appealing to consumers with a strong affinity for a brand. And by their millions consumers are spending time on the rapidly growing social network Facebook.

Many retailers have created their own pages on Facebook, where their loyal customers go for deals, product information and sneak peeks at coming products. Those Facebook pages, and retailer-operated blogs that attract brand loyalists, represent prime opportunities for interacting with consumers in a personalized way.

“Social media and blogs are places where consumers with a common interest congregate online,” says Vish Vishwanathan, CEO of Znode Inc., provider of personalization applications and e-commerce systems. “Bringing a personalized store to consumers through those sites makes it easier for them to find the products they want.”

Znode is building a Facebook store for a cookbook publisher that has attracted 20,000 fans to its Facebook page. The store, which will be located in the left-hand column next to the Facebook wall, will offer products likely to appeal to the publisher’s fans, such as cookbooks that match the season or that relate to the latest hot topic in cuisine.

As more information is gathered about individual fans from their behavior in the store, the store can be programmed to show cookbooks that match their preferences. More information and assortments can be added through additional tabs at the top of the Facebook page.

“Additional stores can also be embedded in the tabs at the top of the fan page that can further personalize selection based on what is known about the fan base or what the retailer wants the customer to see,” says Vishwanathan.

The same personalization principles can be applied to stores embedded in a blog, Vishwanathan adds.

Znode’s Showcase application creates a miniature store containing products likely to appeal to consumers with particular attributes. Retailers can continually update group attributes and create new customer segments to ensure a fresh stream of product recommendations. The stores can be placed on social media sites, blogs and even in banner advertisements.

Targeted advertising

Social media and blogs represent only a portion of the non-retail sites that can deliver a personalized shopping experience with the right technology. Retailers also can extend their personalization strategies to online banner and display ads on sites their customers frequently visit, such as news, entertainment and sports sites.

Online display ads can be customized to each consumer, using the same tracking cookies that help retailers present personalized recommendations on an e-commerce site. ChoiceStream analyzes customer profiles to dynamically create personalized landing pages with the products shoppers are currently in the market for.

For instance, a consumer who has searched on a retailer’s site for golf clubs and clicks on that retailer’s display ad can be directed to a landing page featuring the golf clubs he previously viewed. Customer profiles are built from in-store purchases, loyalty card data, online behavior and other customer touchpoints.

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