Imagine that you walk into a store looking for a new shirt. You scan the clothing racks and start your search, sorting through dozens of items. “Wrong style, wrong color – hmmm, these might work.” Then you proceed to the dressing room to narrow your options even further.

After an hour, you’re exhausted but have finally found a shirt that works. Yet sometimes you come up empty-handed, leaving the store with nothing but a whole lot of frustration. Regardless, the process includes a waste of time and energy.

At its core, this is a highly impersonal experience. The store hasn’t done anything to help personalize your shopping experience, and you – the customer – are charged with narrowing down hundreds of items and creating your own personalized experience. Website personalization, on the other hand, does the exact opposite, taking much of the work off the customers’ plates by learning their patterns, likes and dislikes – and eliminating much of the waste. How can this best be accomplished in the apparel e-commerce market?

Web Personalization: A Quick Primer

Website personalization delivers a customized experience to prospective and current customers based on who they are and what they do. That visitor can be brand new or a frequent visitor to the site.

For example, think about a website that requires you to navigate and search through many pages prior to finding the item you desire. This experience is time-consuming and a far cry from delightful. Web personalization is the exact opposite, allowing you to:

  • Identify specific attributes of a website visitor. For example, buying intent, location, and other important pieces of data can be isolated and captured.
  • Present relevant and timely offers. Once you have behavioral data, you can present the visitor with relevant and timely offers. For example, does he or she love shopping for sandals in the spring? If so, you can display those items during the specific relevant periods.

Saving customers time and energy, however, is not the only reason to incorporate web personalization into your apparel strategy – there is another compelling reason: higher revenue. In fact, 40 percent of consumers report purchasing more from retailers who personalize their shopping experience across channels.

Personalization is no longer a “nice to have” for customers; customers demand it. A Marketo study found that over 78 percent of those surveyed said they would engage with a brand’s offer only if it were related to how they previously interacted with that brand. Which brings us to the next point – the consequences of being impersonal.

The Consequences of Being Impersonal

Not sure whether personalization is worth the rewards? If so, here is another factor to consider. Failing to personalize website content may carry serious risks, such as creating a critical divide between you and your customers.

Retail options that aren’t tailored to customers not only feel impersonal, but they also create disconnection, dissatisfaction and less engagement. In fact, 75 percent of online customers report feeling frustrated with websites when the content doesn’t have anything to do with their interests.

For example, imagine that you meet a new person at a company event. You have a detailed conversion, which includes providing this person with information about where you live, your interests and what’s going on in your life. A couple of weeks later, you meet the same person. Upon meeting again, you reintroduce yourselves. Then you realize the person doesn’t remember you. How do you feel? Probably not great.

This is the equivalent of what happens when apparel brands fail to provide in-depth, personalized experiences. In an instant, the customer feels disconnected from the company. Previously you were engaged, feeling loyal and great about a company; then in a second, all that hard work vanishes.

Many apparel companies are realizing the increasing importance of personalization, yet 95 percent of marketers are stuck in “analysis paralysis,” unsure of the next best move. Or they think that personalized strategies are for larger companies with big teams and high budgets, so they get stuck. The right strategies and tools, however, can quickly help apparel companies of all sizes get “unstuck” as they steadily grow customer loyalty and revenue. But where should you start?

4 Steps to Greater Web Personalization

With so many options for creating greater web personalization, some apparel companies aren’t sure where to start. Which step comes first, and what areas should you focus on when creating these strategies? Here are four e-commerce personalization tactics that will help you get on track!

  1. Acquisition

Locating the right customers is a challenge that most companies face. When you invest valuable dollars to attract and capture the interest of potential customers, it’s critical to maximize that ROI. Web personalization ensures that you present the right message at the right time to your buyer. It’s also important to test your strategy so you can determine what works – and what doesn’t.

For example, one way that apparel companies can accomplish this is by pulling together a welcome message for the first-time website visitor. You don’t know anything about that customer – no geographical information, previous buying patterns or preferences. But what you do know is that it’s the customer’s first visit to your website. As a result, you can create a welcome message based on where the customer originated. For example, one company experienced three times the revenue and a six fold boost in leads after launching a welcome message for visitors who came from Pinterest.

The welcome message can also provide an incentive for providing an email address. Instead of a “subscribe message,” the retailer could provide a “welcome message” along with a coupon offer once it has identified the person as new to the site. For example, two minutes into the shopping session, high-end retailer Superette pops up an offer for new site visitors to receive $10 off when they provide their email to sign up for the Superette newsletter.

Once the customer inputs his or her email address, Superette starts sending personalized content and offers to create greater engagement.

  1. Engagement

Personalization is the cornerstone of effective engagement. Providing true personalization, however, requires you to capture relevant information and details from your customers. For example, consider the media company Netflix. From the moment you subscribe, they start collecting details about your preferences. After you have watched a movie or television episode, they ask you to rate it. When you do so, they start to truly understand your likes and dislikes and can make more accurate recommendations and boost engagement. Plus, the media provider allows you to create profiles that distinguish your preferences from those of other members of your family, such as your spouse or children.

Distinguishing the various likes of all family members is something that apparel companies can fine-tune in the future if they don’t serve just one demographic but several. For example, go back to the Chef Works example. This retailer sells clothing for men and women. Greater personalization could help determine whom a customer is shopping for so they can serve up relevant offers. Not sure what data to collect? Here are a few items to consider.

  • Search terms used. What search terms is the prospect using to arrive at your site? Cataloging these terms will help you understand the types of products and services the person is seeking.
  • Referral source. In the example above, a welcome page was developed for those new prospects arriving from Pinterest. Understanding the referral source will help you view customers in context. For example, maybe they arrived from Facebook. If so, that may be how they prefer to receive coupons and offers from your apparel company.
  • Number of visits. How many times has the customer visited your website? When arriving at the website, what does he or she do? Perhaps the person adds several items to their cart, then leaves to comparison shop before returning (or not returning if he or she finds something better). All of this data is valuable in understanding customers’ behaviors in context and their buying journeys.
  • Pages viewed. Pages viewed provide valuable information about the types of clothing that interest the prospective customer most. For example, do they always search dresses? If so, you can send email alerts when new dress inventory is added, creating higher engagement and personalization.
  • Location. Even for online retailers, geolocation data is very useful. For example, let’s say that 50 percent of your customers reside in California, and those customers also include a highly profitable segment. If so, you can offer free shipping to customers by geographic location.

Web personalization allows you to tell your customers “We know you and care about your preferences.” As a result, these customers become more informed about and engaged with your apparel products and offerings.

  1. Conversion

Web personalization is a critical stepping stone to closing the deal. When you attract and start engaging with your customers, you’re training them to recognize your apparel brand, feel more loyal and move toward action. And remember, conversions don’t always have to be sales. It can be a customer signing up for your email list or using a website coupon provided as a special offer.

For example, perhaps you created an offer for a specific demographic based on a variety of factors, such as number of purchases, value of purchases and shopping frequency. Maybe it’s a segment of customers who made one large purchase in the past but haven’t shopped since. When they visit your website, you present them with a compelling offer: 50 percent off one apparel item when it is purchased in the next 24 hours.

These types of offers can drive greater conversions and sales through subtle but impactful website personalization.

  1. Retention and Cross- or Upselling

Online retailer Amazon is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of retention and cross- and upselling. First of all, the website includes a plethora of personalized cross- and upsells.

Amazon remembers your interests and includes related items in “Inspired by your shopping trends.”

But the site does not stop there. It includes other items, such as:

  • More top picks for you
  • Items inspired by your shopping trends
  • New items for you
  • Items recommended for you in specific departments

Plus, they allow you to scroll back in time and check out items you recently viewed. Apparel companies can take a page from Amazon’s playbook and use the above categories to create more in-depth shopping experiences for their customers. For example, even if customers don’t purchase, they can keep track of recently viewed items or view related suggestions in the future.

When you accomplish this, you instantly create a one-on-one conversation with the shopper. You can ask him or her to rate products and then provide even greater personalization in the future based on those details.

Personalization Creates Advocacy

Web personalization puts apparel companies in the perfect position to create long-term loyalty and advocacy. Engaging with customers from the very moment they learn about your company, and throughout the sales cycle, helps you speak to them in a way totally different from ever before. The conversation is no longer one-sided, and customers feel “talked with” rather than “talked at” by the brand. Instead, they’re having a two-way conversation, where the customer is truly heard and understood.

The divide between company and customer is greatly reduced, as the apparel company transforms into a “trusted advisor” that shoppers rely on to make their shopping experience more efficient and delightful. As a result, the “mediocre” shopping experience of the past gives way to experiences where the customer truly feels known by the brand.

What Is SLI?

At SLI, our machine-learning platform offers the most advanced technology available to accelerate your e-commerce and continuously delight customers at every click.

For more tips, check out our platform guide, “SLI Advanced Technology and Infrastructure Overview.”