Social Media's Route To Retail Revolution: Personalize The Shopping Experience

Last week, an patent application surfaced, offering the world a glimpse into the future of in-store shopping. The filing described an intelligent, connected storefront in which shoppers are identified through facial recognition and other sensors when they walk in.

The store monitors items taken from shelves, as well as prices. Bills are automatically paid upon exit through on-file payment instruments. The system would presumably be smart enough to tell that you decided to put that chocolate milk back and opt instead for water.

The funny thing about this futuristic picture of brick-and-mortar, where data are gathered and applied throughout the shopping experience, is that none of it is futuristic -- not for online, anyway. This data-rich contextualization is all immediately possible for ecommerce retailers.

Software maker Janrain, which provides social login capabilities to tens of thousands of websites, announced last week that 61% of social login users on retail sites are using Facebook credentials to gain access.

Facebook-enabled ecommerce sites have the opportunity to validate these users’ names and email addresses every time they log in. The list of “extended permissions” that retailers can request through Facebook Login go further, too. For example, it’s possible to find out the current city a user lives in, or to see where he or she went to school. It’s even possible to access all of the fitness data published through apps like RunKeeper or Weight Watchers Mobile. In the right context, this data could be incredibly useful for personalization.

Why are so many consumers logging in with Facebook and willfully sharing all of this information?

Because shoppers want more contextual experiences, too.

Personalized product recommendations through item-to-item collaborative filtering became a game-changer for Amazon in the 1990s. A whole generation of online shoppers wasn’t even alive when Amazon invented this.

Amazon’s recommendations are powered by data from millions of sales. However, social data can help newer entrants create similarly personalized experiences because social info is so detailed and comprehensive. This is the same data already used to deliver incredibly relevant at-scale advertising for the world’s most influential consumer brands via social ad campaigns. 

So why doesn’t online shopping feel as easy and carefree as the storefront imagined in Amazon’s patent application?

The truth is, many ecommerce providers aren’t taking advantage of the data at their fingertips.

A recent research report compiled by Hubspot suggests that 60% of ecommerce marketers don’t even know their cart abandonment rate! This means they have no hope of advertising the chocolate milk I mentioned earlier to people who clearly showed interest in it. Shopping cart nurturing is widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective social advertising strategies around. This is money left on the table, and it indicates just how slow to adapt many ecommerce providers have been.

What if more ecommerce companies spent more time testing ways to make their sites more personally contextual for their customers using social data?

Show me a special deal if my birthday is coming up. Serve up sports apparel for the team you know I like, or fitness apparel that matches my favorite activities. Show me multiproduct ads on Facebook featuring different Bluetooth speakers, if you know I’ve landed on your site after searching for a stereo on Google. Then, immediately greet me with new deals on the speakers I’ve clicked next time I return to your site. 

Case study after case study is emerging from Facebook to show that contextual retargeting and relevant advertising wins in ecommerce. Not only is it time to take that step, it’s time to catch up completely by leveraging social data to create better on-site experiences, too.

Amazon’s new retail concept sounds incredibly convenient for shoppers. If online retailers can catch up with the personalization opportunity that’s already available to them through social data, perhaps we’ll never get to see this connected storefront. Now that’s a future worth imagining.

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