Why Your Customers Really Don't Like 'We Thought You Might Like'

Personalisation has been a buzzword in sales, marketing and customer service circles for many years. Get it right and you will improve loyalty, advocacy and sales, but the problem is that personalisation, or behavioural merchandising as it is also often known, is very easy to get badly wrong. Most SME websites just don’t have enough visitors for some systems to work.

There are a few shops that know me very well indeed. I can walk in and, because they understand what appeals to me, they will approach me with new product lines. As a customer it makes me feel special and as a result I enjoy shopping there. Similarly, when I log on to iTunes, I can spend hours listening to music recommended to me based on previous purchases I have made.

On the flip side, I have lost count of the times I have visited a website and my response to the "We thought you might like" section is simply, Why would you think I need or want that? The thing is my local shop doesn’t have a huge customer base, so they have been able to get to know me rather well over the years. Meanwhile, iTunes has a vast meticulously categorised catalogue and my purchasing history, so it can more often than not tempt me to try something new.

The challenge for the vast majority of e-commerce sites run by SMEs is having access to the right volume of the right information. To get any significant matching of products requires a huge amount of data, and the majority of websites will never see enough data to achieve the accuracy needed in order to present customers with items that they genuinely would be interested in, based on their preferences and online trends. So, in a vain attempt to copy the "big boys," they try to second-guess purchasing needs and end up getting it very wrong.

As with my small shop on the high-street, the secret to effective personalisation is to understand what the customer is looking at there and then, and be able to give them suggestions based on this insight. Recently, I had a great experience in an optician when trying on some glasses. I was approached by a friendly member of staff who said “I noticed you like that style of frame. These seem to be most popular right now - we’ve sold loads of these recently.” They were a little more expensive than the frames I had been looking at, but I hadn’t seen them whilst I was browsing and actually they did suit me better. As a result, I made a better, more informed purchasing decision and the retailer not only successfully upsold me, they improved my customer experience.

Replicating this level of personalisation online should be the aspiration for all e-tailers and the good news is that it is possible right now. And, I am not talking about complex personalisation solutions from large vendors that cost many thousands of pounds to implement and even more to administer.

Effective personalisation can be incorporated into your website today free from complex data integration, data capture, costly website re-engineering, or e-commerce feeds. What is more it can be managed by a customer centric member of the team residing outside of the IT department (if indeed your business is large enough to have one).

Even in the absence of huge amounts of data on the individual, recommendations can be incredibly powerful if they tap into ‘crowd sourced’ insight to show a shopper which similar products are popular at that moment in time. In the same way product recommendations influence buyers, crowd suggestions can give a shopper the confidence they need to make a purchase.

The Internet has been a fantastic leveller for retailers of all shapes and sizes, as well as opening up global marketplaces. Now personalisation is available to all, the smallest venture can now compete with the very biggest online.

So let’s put an end to "We thought you might like" and focus on "We know you are going to love."

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