The com­pe­ti­tion for e-commerce dol­lars has never been greater. Nearly 200 mil­lion US con­sumers shop online now, up 20 per­cent in just five years. A boon for your busi­ness? Maybe. Although the num­bers con­tinue to sky­rocket, brand loy­alty has taken a hit in recent years. Com­pound that with 102,000+ e-commerce sites in the US gen­er­at­ing $12,000 or more in rev­enue (some esti­mates put this num­ber as high as 500,000 when you con­sider global sites of every shape and size) and wan­ing cus­tomer loy­alty shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing. In what other plat­form can you just “x out” and find the same prod­uct with greater appeal—a lower price, faster ship­ping, and bet­ter add-ons—than online?

We are in a rela­tion­ship period when it comes to dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. To over­take the com­pe­ti­tion, e-commerce sites must cre­ate com­pelling, rel­e­vant shop­ping expe­ri­ences for every one of their cus­tomers. But the clear upshot is that per­son­al­iza­tion thrives in an e-commerce envi­ron­ment. It’s debat­able that there’s no other type of web­site more innately aligned with the ins and outs of per­son­al­iza­tion than a shop­ping site.

Like I’ve said before, when a dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence is so spot-on rel­e­vant to us, we can’t help but react. That vis­ceral reac­tion is an incred­i­bly pow­er­ful force in e-commerce, one that can drive mas­sive con­ver­sion and, more impor­tantly, cre­ate life­long con­nec­tions with the shop­pers who can and will become com­pelling brand evan­ge­lists. And that starts with basic per­son­al­iza­tion tac­tics, includ­ing a friendly greet­ing when they arrive—think Amazon’s resound­ing “Hello, Kevin” at the top of the homepage—along with prod­uct and ser­vice rec­om­men­da­tions based on real-time brows­ing and pur­chase his­tory, plus future out­reach via email, social, mobile pushes, and more. Together, this is how you show your cus­tomers that you “get” them, that you’re con­nected and on the same page and that, ulti­mately, you are the e-commerce site for them.

Besides Ama­zon who’s doing it well? Net­flix is always a great exam­ple. Sub­scribers, you already know the drill—Netflix serves up curated movie and TV rec­om­men­da­tions based on what you’ve been watch­ing, your rat­ings, and what you’ve ranked as a favorite at signup. It does this by break­ing users into personas—something we delved into last week—and per­sona–liz­ing rec­om­men­da­tions based on the seg­ment in which you fall. Net­flix will even send you DVDs with­out your input if you want. It’s just that con­fi­dent in its persona-lization methods.

To tackle the daunt­ing task of digest­ing, cat­a­loging, and lever­ag­ing the unique tastes and pref­er­ences of 44 mil­lion mem­bers, Net­flix uti­lizes pre­dic­tive mod­els that get more and more refined based on per­sonal con­tent con­sump­tion and reviews. This com­bi­na­tion of expressed pref­er­ences, choice (what movies are on your list, and what you actu­ally watch), as well as post-“purchase” follow-up is extremely inno­v­a­tive, and actu­ally mar­ries the notion of persona-lization and per­son­al­iza­tion. You start as a per­sona and “grad­u­ate” to a per­son in the Net­flix universe.

That’s not to say that per­son­al­iza­tion is an unat­tain­able behe­moth for smaller sites. When bro­ken down into sim­ple, action­able steps, mean­ing­ful rel­e­vance can be deliv­ered to every cus­tomer. Focus on what mat­ters: map­ping all con­sumer inter­ac­tions, deliv­er­ing real-time expe­ri­ences, and stick­ing with them through­out their life­cy­cle with your site. Like I said in an ear­lier post, just because you’re in a rela­tion­ship with the con­sumer doesn’t mean you can stop fan­ning those flames. Expe­ri­ences and inter­ac­tions should build on each other, grow­ing every time. Today’s visit should be more com­pelling than yesterday’s, because today you know more about me than you did yes­ter­day, and you aren’t afraid to use that knowl­edge for our mutual benefit.

From here, start think­ing omnichan­nel. I don’t have to sell you on the fact that your con­sumers are every­where, from your site to social media plat­forms to mobile and tablet devices and, of course, in store. Coor­di­nate your efforts and max­i­mize loy­alty and con­ver­sion. With the kind of Big Data col­lec­tions that emerge from omnichan­nel track­ing and research, your orga­ni­za­tion can delve into truly pre­dic­tive per­son­al­iza­tion and start serv­ing up what you “just know” they’ll want. And what bet­ter con­sumer con­nec­tion can you make than deliv­er­ing that per­fect, rel­e­vant expe­ri­ence. You’re giv­ing your cus­tomers exactly what they want when they want it, whether they know they want those sneak­ers, that art book, that case of wine … or not.

Despite hav­ing access to tremen­dous amounts of implicit and explicit con­sumer data, Big Data stores are what I hear the most trep­i­da­tion about from retail­ers when it comes to rolling out per­son­al­iza­tion ini­tia­tives. Start small and start sim­ple, then grow from there. You can’t reach Ama­zon or Net­flix pro­por­tions overnight. When anony­mous vis­i­tors arrive you’ve already got some of the goods on them—geolocation infor­ma­tion, what device and plat­form they’re using, how they arrived at your site or the spe­cific prod­uct page, be it search, direct, from an email or pro­mo­tion, or some­thing entirely dif­fer­ent. And once they’ve browsed and con­verted you’ve got even more. Toss in a sign-up sur­vey or quick “check to tell us what you want to see more of” after they buy, and a mean­ing­ful con­sumer profile—or at least action­able segmentation—begins to emerge. Then lever­age this data to up the stakes next time, or to draw cus­tomers back if they came and went. Guar­an­tee them pri­vacy, though—in this age of hack­ing and data thefts, con­sumers need to trust you enough to give up that kind of valu­able information.

Per­son­al­iza­tion is crit­i­cal to e-commerce sites. We are in a deeply relationship-driven period in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, and con­sumers want to feel those one-on-one con­nec­tions with the brands for which they’re open­ing their wal­lets. Gather the data, con­tinue to cull infor­ma­tion, and be pre­pared to make adjust­ments in real-time—now and forever—so you can deliver the kind of per­son­al­ized greet­ing, dynamic con­tent, and pow­er­ful drives-to-buy that get results and turn unknown shop­pers into loyal buyers.

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