Ask any commerce player what keeps them up at night, and their answers will all have one thing in common: Amazon. One of the things that has made Amazon so successful -- and one of the reasons that its potential foray into brick-and-mortar stores could be a game changer for the industry as we know it -- is its comprehensive approach to personalization. When you tout yourself as the "everything" store, it's a requirement: "everything" can be overwhelming if you're just looking to buy some batteries and a new toaster. Amazon's sophisticated recommendation engine brings relevant products to a buyer based on experiences with that buyer's past search, navigation and purchasing behavior.
While this was a unique function in 2008, and a daunting task for any team to pull off, the commerce experience platforms of today have the ability to deliver a superior and more relevant presentation of content, products and campaigns. That said, the success of implementing those platforms lies in the approach of the architects behind them.
When implementing a new commerce platform within today's competitive landscape, you should focus on delivering an effectively personalized commerce strategy by:
Getting up to speed on experience management platforms
Choosing the right platform with the right capabilities is the first step to designing an experience that will work for your buyers and digital marketing and operations teams and can level the playing field. The past several years have brought dramatic capabilities to a number of experience management platforms in the market, and the costs associated with these platforms has dropped. Smaller companies can compete with far larger players if they can invest the time and strategic focus to select, implement, operationalize, and maximize the technology available.
Leveraging your "tribal knowledge" to support your customers
Chances are you're hoping to attract the attention of a smaller, more specific customer base than Amazon's. You and your experienced team know more about the specific needs and nuances of your buyer's profile than a large digital superstore does. Assess this wealth of knowledge within your sales, marketing, product development, and customer service departments, and use that to identify and design role-based personalization in support of all stages of the customer and product support lifecycles. Don't blindly follow the competition but use your institutional intelligence to inform your digital design capabilities to create a truly unique competitive positioning and relationship with your customers.
Understanding search results aren't enough and creating unique, personalized content
Personalizing the actual product mix presented to a buyer is good, but there's room to go further. In thinking through the user profiles of your digital buyer, be sure to identify segmentation opportunities based on unique markets and roles within your target customer's organization. Amazon is fundamentally a one-size-fits-all model for product content and supporting media. Content designed to support unique role-based perspectives and requirements can give your brand authority and relevance, and potentially improve SEO.
Realizing that overpersonalization will alienate your consumer
Overall, personalization should be a subtle overlay on your customer experience. You shouldn't be creating totally different experiences from user to user; rather, you should just be tweaking the experience to make it more relevant for the user, and easier to show them down the path you want them to take. Brands use data that customers are consciously aware of giving (i.e., info they provide through a form), along with information they are unaware they're sharing (i.e., demographics based on IP addresses). Relying too heavily on the former and inferring too much from a consumer's shopping behavior -- as Target famously did by sending out coupons for maternity items to women who exhibited certain buying patterns -- can very quickly cross the line from helpful to creepy.
Most importantly, it's crucial to remember that your commerce experience is not separate from the rich brand experience that has been at the core of your marketing strategy for years; rather, it's an extension of the integrated, seamless experience that your customers have come to expect. If you focus on making your commerce practice align with and support the rest of your brand -- rather than trying to mimic Amazon's -- your customers will have a more targeted, and ultimately more effective, commerce experience which will, in turn, drive brand loyalty for years to come.