What Is Website Personalization? (and Why Your Business Needs It)

The average conversion rate for ecommerce businesses is 2.86%. Put simply, about 97% of your visitors are not making purchases when they visit your online store.

In contrast, the conversion rate of in-person stores is 22.5% on average. Why? It’s time to ask yourself, what’s the online alternative to turning around and asking for help making a purchase?

The answer lies in website personalization.

What is website personalization?

According to Optimizely, an online experience optimization platform, website personalization is “the process of creating customized experiences for visitors to a website.”

They go on to say, “Rather than providing a single, broad experience, website personalization allows companies to present visitors with unique experiences tailored to their needs and desires.”

Website personalization is how you make your customers feel special.

Why website personalization? Why now?

Shopping online is a simplistic process, we get to the site, we scroll past product images trying to decide from a small thumbnail which products to click on to read about in more detail. 

The average customer only wants to look at and read about a few products before they get tired and bounce (45.68% of your visitors will bounce to be exact). In the old days, in a store this might be when a person would seek out a salesperson’s help. Online the analogy is to chat with customer service, but often they aren’t available, or you have to wait, or they’re not knowledgeable about the products. 

So, how do we help customers more easily find the products they need. How can we help people spend time looking at and going deeper with the products that matter most to them and that they’re most likely to buy?

Shopping online is an inherently cold experience, full of endless scrolling and searching. If you can talk to your customers, listen to their problems, and prioritize their needs—that is, learn what they are looking for and put it directly in front of them—you’ll be helping people spend time looking at the products that matter most to them and that they’re most likely to buy. 

Put plainly, if you want to build a successful ecommerce brand, website personalization needs to be at the top of your priority list. You need to offer you customers personalized shopping experiences.

The benefits of personalization

Companies everywhere are dealing with a new reality: their physical stores are hanging on by a thread. Brands are either scrambling to get their ecommerce up and running or looking to invest further in existing efforts.

Either way, what this means for you is more competition.

And it’s up to you to respond. Listening to your customers, learning about their interests and needs, and providing them with product recommendations is the single most important way to do that.

Combined with this increase in competition is a more discerning and more demanding customer. Today’s ecommerce customer knows better.

If you like stats, this next section is for you.

  • 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations.
  • 38% of consumers say they won’t return to an online retailer that recommends things that don’t make sense for them.
  • 90% of consumers find personalization appealing.
    • And these consumers are 10x more likely to be a brand’s most valuable customer, ie. make more than 15 transactions a year.
  • 45% of online shoppers are more likely to shop on a site that offers personalized recommendations.
  • 56% are more likely to return to a site that recommends personalized products.

The bottom line is that customers expect personalization, buy more (and more often) from websites that offer it, and will turn their backs on sites that don’t. Personalization is also proven to help you stretch your marketing budget further: personalization can increase the efficiency of marketing spend by up to 30 percent.

The bottom bottom line is that website personalization is good for your bottom line.

The challenges of website personalization

But personalizing your ecommerce site for each visitor is not as easy as flipping a switch.

If it were that simple, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Website personalization is something every ecommerce pro is striving for, but there are challenges preventing them from reaching the golden metrics that personalization provides.

“I’ll need an entire team working on it.”

At first glance, the idea of delivering a personalized experience on your ecommerce website might seem like a pipe dream. I mean, who has the resources to gather data on every visitor, translate that data into insights, and then deliver an experience based on those insights? Not me and not you.

The good news: The entire process can be managed for you, leaving you and your team free to focus on other things, like flashy graphics.

“It’s a huge investment that doesn’t always pay off.”

Any investment is huge when it doesn’t pay off. 

We keep hearing that people that implement website personalization don’t see a strong increase in sales. Is it any surprise? 

The product recommendations made through most solutions simply watches which product pages consumers visit on your website visit, and then they recommend products that other consumers who followed similar paths purchased. 

Most personalization is just guessing what products you might want based on the clicks you make on a website, no wonder results are lacklustre!

The good news: There is a better way to glean information about your visitors (keep reading), and when you adopt it, the investment pays off big time: 88% of U.S. marketers have seen measurable improvements due to proper personalization.

“What about the ethical dilemma that comes with spying on my visitors?”

In the past, personalization relied on quietly monitoring what pages your customers visited and what they bought (aka spying); not only did this feel ethically dirty, but it more often than not led to incorrectly guessing their purchase intent. 

The good news: Today, personalization is built around conversations, allowing you to listen to your customers to understand why they buy what they buy. 

“What about the challenge of actually getting the data I need to provide a personalized experience?” 

Turns out that’s not a challenge at all.

Salesforce spoke to over 6,700 consumers and found, among other things, that people will share their personal data in exchange for better service. The survey found that “61% of millennials are happy to share personal data if it leads to a more personalized in-store or online shopping experience.” 

According to Accenture, that number jumps to 83% when you widen the net to all shoppers. Their study found that more than four out of every five consumers “are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience as long as businesses are transparent about how they are going to use it and that customers have control over it.”

So yeah, your customers are more than happy to share with you as long as a) it will yield a more personalized experience, and b) you don’t do anything underhanded to get it.

The limitations of website personalization

As revolutionary as personalization can be when executed properly, there are many ways to “do it wrong” and miss out on the benefits.

The biggest obstacle to proper personalization is relying on manually set rules (arbitrary and static things like “if this then that”) or predictive aggregated data (the grouping of individuals to whom you then subject to glorified guesswork).

Behold, website personalization gone wrong.

The suggestive pop-up

We’ve all been there. You search for something or even add it to your cart and are immediately inundated with prompts like, “You may also like…”, “People like you also bought…”, or “May we suggest…”

This is not personalization. It’s opportunism on the part of the vendor. And customers know the difference.

Remarketing ads

What I’m about to say is not a nightmare, it actually happens.

You’re scrolling through Instagram and click on an ad for a marshmallow maker by mistake. For the rest of your natural life, everywhere you digitally go, you’re followed by ads for marshmallow makers. Or worse yet, you actually bought the marshmallow maker but are still being targeted. How many of these things does one person need?!

Superficial personalization

This is the type of attempt that often goes unnoticed, eg. you see a banner image of a man if you’re a man or of a woman if you’re a woman. This kind of “personalization” is lazy and ineffectual, and isn’t worth your time.

The problem with so much personalization today is that it’s based on guesses (“I see they’re a woman in their 50s; they must like scented candles.”) that deliver precious little benefit to the customer’s overt perception and experience of the website. 

Remember, it’s about improving their customer experience; tossing things at the wall to see if they stick often results in making it worse.

So what is true personalization?

True personalization is when you have a deep understanding of your product catalogue and the nitty-gritty details of each individual product. 

True personalization is when you communicate naturally with your customers.

True personalization is when you deliver an experience that recommends products not based on assumption or monitored behaviour, but on an understanding of your customers’ specific needs and how your different products address them.

True personalization when you provide an experience that can be seen and felt across your entire website.

True personalization is when your customer feels heard.

So how does Automat do website personalization?

“The most human computers aren’t the ones that can talk; they’re the ones that can listen.”

—Andy Mauro, co-founder and CEO of Automat

It works like this.

First, Automat listens, understands, and guides your customers towards the products they need.

Second, Automat ingests, tags and syncs your entire product feed in real time, ensuring your recommendations are always accurate and up-to-date.

Third, Automat suggests the right products at the right time with recommendations that understand your customers and your inventory.

Finally, Automat makes every visit valuable with personalized website content and product recommendations that your customers can actually see and feel.

In a nutshell, Automat provides personalized shopping experiences.

Picture this.

Kathy is looking for a new shampoo. She visits an online hair care site her best friend told her about and starts browsing. Problem is, there’s just way too many options. 

She tries the search function but finds it frustrating; it isn’t enough to help her find the products she needs.

Kathy finally loses her patience and gets up to go for a walk. She’ll try again some other time.

If that site had Automat, the experience would have gone something like this.

Kathy gets to the site and is greeted by a message prompting her to find her personalized hair routine.

The experience starts by listening to her needs to understand what she is looking for.

In the background, thanks to a deep understanding of the site’s product inventory and attributes, Automat provides Kathy with product recommendations that fully meet her needs.

Kathy will likely make a purchase at this step.

If she doesn’t, the next time she browses the site, she’ll discover a fully personalized website that helps guide her to the products that are right for her.

This is personalization reminiscent of the real-world experience. No more endless scrolling, no more fruitless searches, just natural conversations and helpful recommendations.

When Automat takes care of your website personalization, you’ll never have to worry about visitors slipping through the cracks; personalized shopping experiences can engage—and charm—every single visitor.

Nothing personal, but…

Your online experience is failing your customers. Sure, your website and marketing are saying all the right things, but they’re not personal. 

You can’t deliver a personalized experience when you’re constantly focused on what you’re going to say; in order to give your customers the website personalization they so desperately crave, you need to listen. 

Automat’s approach to ecommerce website personalization can be distilled to that one word: listen.

Talk to your customers, listen to their problems, and prioritize their needs—that is, learn what they are looking for and put it directly in front of them.

Customers are dying to tell you what they want to buy right now and what they’ll need in the future. All you need to do is ask.

Learn from your customers. Have a conversation with them, and show them you’re listening. If you do that, and personalize their experience across your entire site, they’ll reward you with repeat visits, increased purchases, and positive word of mouth.

Website personalization is the fastest way to grow your ecommerce business.

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