April 5, 2011, 10:54 AM

Sponsored Supplement April 2011 Getting personal

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"After a purchase a retailer has up to a month to complete a cross-sell. It's imperative to communicate with that consumer to make the most of that opportunity," says MyBuys' Cell. For example, he says a personalized e-mail remarketing campaign can boost revenue from e-mail marketing between 5% and 10%.

"If there is a special offer on an accessory to a recent purchase, that would be something that you would want to highlight," Cell advises.

Prompt follow-up with visitors browsing on a retailer's site is especially important. "Catching that consumer early in the purchase cycle and bringing them back to your site above that of your competition is critical," says Cell. "Using cross-channel personalization to communicate with that consumer via e-mail, display advertising, mobile and social can make the difference between a converted consumer and a lost sale. Immediate and personalized follow-up is key. Making sure that the consumer is receiving coordinated messages makes all the difference."

E-mail follow-up with consumers that have abandoned a shopping cart is another best practice. Allow no more than a few days to elapse before sending out a reminder e-mail with an incentive such as free shipping. The products left in the shopping cart should also be referenced in the subject line to grab the consumer's attention.

"A lot of times a consumer will place an item in their cart, get distracted and log off the site, then forget about the item," says Ability Commerce's Buzzeo. "Crafting the e-mail to focus on items in the cart and suggested related items, along with offering an incentive for immediate purchase, can be just the nudge the customer needs. This kind of follow-up lets the consumer know the retailer values their business and is willing to provide the personal touches to show it."

Ability Commerce's Ability Connect e-mail marketing software offers retailers a choice of ready-made e-mail templates and the option of creating customized templates. Retailers can place logos and images in the e-mail. Retailers can monitor open rates, click-throughs and forwarded e-mails in real time, and compare the results of current e-mail campaigns with previous campaigns.

E-mail newsletters, which often feature the latest promotions, can also be customized as part of following up with consumers about products left in their shopping carts or on their wish lists.

"Including promotional information about these items along with helpful information about the products, such as ways to use them, and embedding links in the newsletter back to the retailer's store can provide a powerful pull to complete the purchase," says PredictiveIntent's Hamilton.

New customers

While retailers can most easily customize offers to returning customers, today's more sophisticated personalization engines can create individualized shopping experiences for first-time customers or shoppers that delete cookies.

For example, an apparel retailer can start by identifying the most popular brands or products for all consumers. When a first-time customer arrives shopping for an evening dress, the e-retailer can initially recommend the most popular brands. Once she indicates a brand preference, the site shows her that brand's most popular evening gowns.

As the consumer drills further down in her product search, providing such information as size and color, the retailer can then show evening dresses with the same attributes.

"Every shopper goes through a funneling process, which brings greater clarity to their preferences with each click," says Certona's Sheik. "Even if a retailer knows nothing about a visitor, Certona's personalization engine can quickly learn enough about the consumer to make broad-based, yet novel suggestions in real time and refine those suggestions to become more personalized as the session progresses with more interactions."

Every action counts

Everything a shopper does tells the retailer something about her preferences. When a shopper adds a product to her shopping cart, for instance, that says a lot about her interest in that product and creates an opportunity to recommend highly relevant cross-sell items, including items that are not themselves top sellers. For example, a consumer that adds a high-end digital camera and a book about photography to her shopping cart can be pitched a tripod, because the two products suggest more than a casual interest in photography.

"Cross-sell recommendations should not be based solely upon the wisdom of the crowd, but take into account the fact that the customer is interested in the product, and that recommended products have a specific relationship to the product already in the shopping cart," says Levy. "By understanding product relationships, retailers can dig deeper into their catalog to create more meaningful recommendations, rather than just recommending related top sellers when the consumer is anonymous. Adding what you know about a customer to this equation makes it even more personal and powerful."

While increasingly powerful, personalization is technology retailers of all sizes can now afford. "It's gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have in order to effectively compete," says Levy. "4-Tell's vision is for all retailers, whether big or small, online or brick-and-mortar, to make personalized recommendations."

Besides his actions, other factors can provide important clues to a shopper's interest, such as his location. Using geolocation technology to locate where a first-time visitor lives based on his IP address can help a retailer show more relevant products on the home page. "A retailer that sells hunting apparel is going to show different types of clothing in winter to a consumer that lives in the north than they would to someone who lives in a warmer region," says Ability Commerce's Buzzeo. "As basic as it sounds, retailers want the products shown on their home page to be customized by region."

Regardless of how much or how little the retailer knows about a consumer's preferences, Levy advises recommending no more than five products at a time and placing them in a scroll bar. This makes for easier viewing and avoids cluttering the page, which can distract the consumer from finding the product he wants.

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