Holy Grail of eCommerce: Personalisation and Customer Experience.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite activities was to go with my dad for monthly shopping, we used to have a list which mom would prepare for all the essentials of the house. The shopkeepers knew us well, they knew what kind of items we would buy regularly, what kind of buyer were we, so they would recommend certain kind of items to us, invariably adding something new to our basket of buys, they would also let us know if we missed something in our list that we usually buy. We would go the same set of shops every month to buy them.  Same was true when we would go and buy clothes, and any other stuff.

So much has changed since then, there are so many choices, and now technology is changing the very experience of buying process (btw check out this ted talk on art of choosing). But you know, the human being behind the customer is still with same biological configuration, he/she still senses touch, smell, sight, hear and taste, with same mental and cognitive landscape (though the very faculty is evolving and adapting, link here). The effect of influence on these senses varies from person to person. Experienced retailers in brick and mortar stores understand this very well and utilise this knowledge to a great extent to tailor a buying and after buying experience to personal traits.

eCommerce is changing how we buy, it is changing how we interact with brands, it is changing existing paradigms about customer loyalty and almost everything that had established contours for generations around how buying  is done. But the basic configurations of human beings are same, they get influenced by the same stimuli that govern cognitive and behavioural responses. The next frontier for eCommerce is to realise and imbibe this philosophy and use this to guide customer experience.

Influencing consumer behaviour positively is the holy grail of eCommerce. In this blog I will try to capture some areas which relate to customer behaviour, traits and how eRetailers can utilise (some already are) this for a great customer experience resulting in loyalty, conversion and retention.

It revolves around these areas: 

  1. Personalisation
  2. Intuitive user experience
  3. Making website experience more closer to real life
  4. Customer support
  5. Sales 'Post' sales

Let's take them one by one:


Personalisation is already a red hot topic in eCommerce, a lot of automation and web analytics tools (here is a list of most popular ones) are now available which track deferred as well as real time; visitor behaviour on the website, which is then used for an enhanced user experience. There are many ways in which personalisation based on the site usage of the visitor can be tracked and utilised. Some of the big guys like Target, Amazon etc. are using this information to a great extent (using deep data mining and statistical techniques to even predict to a good measure if/when a woman gets pregnant and offering her specific items from Target, check out the link here and all through the while leading the customer to a particular target sale, taking cues from how a habit gets formed here). Big data and data analysis are going to play a very important role in website analytics and real time tweaks and offers/content based on the site usage of an online visitor.

Personalization is not just something you sprinkle on top of your website. It goes far beyond inserting a customer name at the top of a Web page or e-mail. Personalization is a business strategy—one that takes into account not only who the customer is but what she likes, what she doesn't like, when she wants to hear from you, and when she doesn’t.

Intuitive User Experience

A very important part of user experience on the website for the ecommerce website owners is to understand the intuitive flow of the visits, which page/product is more likely to be visited, what kind of products to showcase the visitor based on the visit pattern/history etc. how to make the design simple and user friendly. Sometimes many tech entrepreneurs do not give much importance to this, as this is more of an art. We can start from the basics, along with using technology to analyse click patterns etc. I would recommend ecommerce business owners to spend some time in a good brick and mortar retail store to understand how visitors spend time, how the products are arranged to maximise sales and optimise an intuitive user experience. It will give so much insight about how users browse through. Brick and Mortar retail experience is being perfected through decades of research and understanding of psychology of the customers and consumer behaviour. Market research as they say 95% of the time only conforms what we can infer using common sense and simple observations in the first place.

Making website experience closer to real life

Many new innovations are happening in this space, we are approaching a world where computers will be able to influence all our senses (touch, see, hear and smell and taste), we are moving towards some form of convergence on how we can achieve a sense of real life experience to the user, this new field is ‘Cognitive Computing’ (check out link here and here). We are already to a certain extent making baby steps towards it, with the current available tools, we can start as simple as removing just pictures of apparel and replacing it with real models, including videos of the products being used, including videos along with the text content, using 3D store fronts. Virtual trial rooms are going to become a commonplace in future (check out the recent acquisition by Myntra, Fitiquette in this space, link here)

Customer Support

Customer support is so much important in making your company empathise with customers, understanding their issues and building over it to make your company truly customer friendly, after-all you exist because there are some

customers out there ready to shell out their hard earned money buying your produce, you better give them their money’s worth and more. We've heard so much about automating the whole customer experience, making robots do live chat sessions etc. to achieve scalability. There is no alternative to a good old customer friendly person solving a customer’s issue or helping him/her make a buying decision. It is so much more important if you are selling a high value item like home decor/jewellery etc. Good customer support and a live person talking/interacting with you customer is very-very essential.

Sales ‘Post’ Sales

Real customer engagement and lifetime value add starts once the customer has bought something from you, what you should upsell/cross sell, how should you engage the customer throughout their lifetime to come back again and again to your site and buy. Real sales as they say ‘starts’ after the first buy. A happy customer will tell 10 more to come to your site, it is imperative for you to take care of your existing customers. This can be very simple things like greeting them on their birthdays, on special occasions, sending them coupons and keep them informed about the sale on your portal etc. to areas like calling them after a certain period of purchase to understand how is the product doing.

It’s time for e-sellers to wake up to this new reality. Despite the fact that just 16 percent of online shoppers represent 'new' customers to the Web, e-sellers are still dedicating more than half of their interactive marketing resources towards new-customer acquisition. It’s time for retailers to adequately focus more on providing best possible customer experience for the millions of customers already relying on the online marketplace to meet their shopping needs. The Holy Grail is having a customer for life, and having that customer buy from you repeatedly.

Overall I believe engaging customers and personalisation should be viewed as an amalgamation of art, psychology, cognitive science and technology. More the eCommerce business owners understand and assimilate this fact into their website and business along with understanding and moulding it to suit the psychology of the customer and his/her behaviour, the better are their chances of success and long term survival. Using and optimising use of site analytics coupled with some good old customer engagement models can do wonders. It’s time we move on from considering customers a mere number on the term sheets and business plans to real entities with flesh and blood and treat them the way it affects them positively, empathise with them, help them, support them and love them. The success of this ecommerce revolution lies in how each customer is treated and the day when this experience surpasses the one on the kirana shop a few blocks down your house, will be the day eCommerce will have truly achieved real success. Till then, let’s keep on trying and evolving, the way our species has and always will. Godspeed to all of us!

[Connecting Dots http://www.cdotsys.com/ is a consulting led deep engagement driven software services organisation. We are ecommerce web development experts and help our customers achieve success by combining our business, functional and technical know how in the ecommerce domain]