July 27, 2011, 11:17 AM

ShoeDazzle finds the right personalization fit

The retailer asks consumers a series of questions to gauge what they might be seeking.

Lead Photo

ShoeDazzle.com’s goal is to steer consumers to the shoes she’s most likely be interested. That’s why when a shopper arrives at ShoeDazzle.com one of the rotating central images asks her in bold letters, “What’s your style? Sexy? Boho? Classic?”

Clicking the link takes her to the site’s “Style Survey” to answer such questions as “Which cosmetics are most likely to grace your face?” and “Which diva’s style would you dare to wear?” With each answer, indicated by clicking on one of three images, the site zeros in on what shoes she might be interested in buying.

The retailer, which sells subscriptions to receive new footwear each month, uses that data to send customers shoe recommendations. The consumer then selects which items she’d like to receive. Based on how consumers respond to the selections offered, the retailer fine tunes its algorithm to better predict what its customers might like.

The process requires customers that are willing to interact with the retailer, but that works for a fashion-focused brand like ShoeDazzle, which has nearly 1.1 million Facebook followers, says Hope Neiman, the retailer’s chief marketing officer. “We’re involved with our fan base and they’re involved with us,” she says.

And the retailer asks customers to help in making its selections more relevant to each shopper.  “It’s not just one big black box,” Neiman says. “Before the month starts we ask them what they’re looking for next month. When they contact our client services team through Facebook or on the phone they tell them what they’re looking for and ultimately that information informs the algorithm.” While Nieman would not reveal ShoeDazzle’s sales, investors were sufficiently impressed that they put $40 million into ShoeDazzle earlier this year.

The idea of a retailer letting customers know it’s asking for their preferences so it can make better recommendations is hardly new. Netflix Inc., for instance, has for years asked subscribers to rate the movies they viewed and made plain it would use that data to recommend other movies they might like. But it’s relatively new to see that approach show up on sites like ShoeDazzle.com as a way to sell shoes.

Like ShoeDazzle, many online retailers are becoming convinced of the value of personalizing the content they present online shoppers. Half the retailers profiled in the 2011 edition of the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide employ personalization on their e-commerce sites, up 53.4% from 32.6% the year earlier. Moreover, 61% of retailers say personalization is among the most important merchandising tactics in web retailing, according to the 10th Annual E-tailing Group Merchant Survey, which canvassed 200 retailers of various sizes and selling in a wide array of product categories.

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