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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