Be Relevant, Not Pushy

By ​David Brussin

June 29, 2012

At the Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York City on Tuesday, Ron Rogowski, Forrester’s Vice President, Principal Analyst for Customer Experience Professionals, spoke about what he called website “contextualization.” Whether you refer to it as personalization, customization, or now even contextualization, the point remains the same: Visitors expect a relevant customer experience when they visit your website.

While over-utilizing your data can result in a website experience that takes control away from your visitors and removes the joy of just plain shopping, doing nothing to tailor your website to your customer segments is just as bad.

In the context of their relationship with a brand, product, or company, personalizing the online customer experience is no longer optional. Your customer expects you to use the data that they know you have about your relationship with them to make their experience on your website tailored to their preferences. Put simply, customers expect a website experience relevant to their lives and interests. And the companies that deliver those experiences are increasing revenue and driving more conversions.

But there’s a huge difference between being relevant and being pushy. And there are plenty of ways to take website personalization too far and make visitors feel like they aren’t in control.

Here’s one way to look at this issue: Let’s say I’m your personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s. You come in, and I take you to a set of items that I’ve picked out for you. And I basically don’t want you to look at anything else in the store. I keep you away from everything else and only show you what I picked out based on what I know about you.

That’s a prime example of being pushy. It’s basically saying “I know what’s best for you.”

Now, let’s look at how I could be a better personal shopper. I walk you through Bloomingdale’s, and this time, I suggest a few items that I’ve been thinking about that might be good for you while you’re shopping. That’s a completely different approach. It’s a much more respectful approach.

If you take this example and apply it to ecommerce, you’ll see a similar effect.

A customer who comes to a website who has purchased women’s products in the past should not be shown just women’s items during return visits. That’s basically saying, “This is no longer a store for the customer, it’s just a place where they can be fed what someone else thinks they should buy.”

Instead of taking that approach, it’s better to use what is known about visitors to make the experience personalized in a subtler way. For instance, you might use a targeted hero image on the homepage, tweaking the photography to be relevant to the shopper by featuring an urban or rural environment based on their location. This kind of personalization doesn’t keep them from exploring your website. That’s not being pushy, it’s simply being relevant to make the experience better.

The bottom line is that using data to take too much control over the visitor’s experience on a website will ultimately backfire. Here’s why: Once a customer feels pressured by too much personalization, they’ll no longer feel in control and won’t browse and shop the way they usually do.

So while it’s critical to avoid too much website personalization, there’s no denying that some level of contextualization is necessary to please your visitors. That’s why every brand needs to test and iterate to find the level of customization that builds stronger relationships with its customers.

David Brussin is the Chief Product Officer and Chairman of Monetate. An entrepreneur and innovator whose career has been dedicated to helping marketers succeed in the digital world, David sits on the boards of directors of Shop.org and Nomi, an omni-channel analytics and engagement platform. He is also a published author, holds several patents on his inventions, and is an avid adventurer and hobbyist.

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