Personalization is moving to the forefront of major retailers’ website redesigns.

Walmart wants to show online shoppers that it knows what they’re looking for.

That’s why the redesign that the retailer rolled out in May greets shoppers with a scrolling hero image featuring top products and current sales reflective of their past site visits. Additional elements include trending items in a shopper’s location and the status of her online order. A consumer’s local store profile showcases the services available within her location, such as Walmart’s free grocery pickup and its Easy Reorder service, which lets shoppers repurchase the items they buy most frequently in stores and online.

The site isn’t just cleaner than the previous product-heavy Walmart.com, it’s also focused on a consumer’s local market. The redesigned homepage features bold colors (and much less of the retailer’s trademark Walmart blue) and smaller, rounded icons that aim to help a shopper quickly locate her cart and other site features. “Customers shopping for groceries and household essentials want to quickly re-buy what they always purchase, while those looking for a new couch want to be inspired while browsing the different options,” wrote Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. e-commerce, in an April blog post announcing the website redesign.

The site overhaul is part of Walmart’s latest attempt to combat Amazon by offering an online experience that is markedly distinct from Amazon.com. Its aim is to offer shoppers a “browsable, personalized website” with higher-end brands and fashion options, such as the addition of a Lord & Taylor-branded section.

“Shoppers want richer, more seamless digital experiences, and as Walmart advances toward this next level of e-commerce sophistication, they’re making sure to incorporate those demands by adding in services like easy reorders or visibility into order status,” says Diego Tartara, chief technology officer, Latin America at software company Globant.

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While is still early days for Walmart’s redesign, the retail giant has plenty of company among high-profile retailers tailoring their website content and designs to consumers’ actions, preferences, locations and previous purchases. There’s good reason for the push—personalization drives results: 70% of consumers have chosen, recommended or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized experience, a recent Forrester Research Inc. survey found.

“Leading retailers recognize that the value they deliver within customer experiences—not the products they carry—are the competitive differentiators they need to win,” says Brendan Witcher, a Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst.

Overstock’s approach

Take Overstock.com Inc. The retailer’s redesign, which launched earlier this year, focused on tailoring the site to the individual consumer. Those personalization elements pull content from an in-house asset data platform—a system that stores all of the retailer’s content and product assets—and shows tailored content to consumers who visit its site. That’s important for a retailer with more than 7 million SKUs for consumers to wade through.

Overstock’s homepage presents different product recommendations to each shopper based on her past searches, in-session behavior and purchase history.

For example, if a consumer searched for and purchased a navy blue couch during her last visit, and she’s now searching for ottomans, the platform will show her navy blue ottomans and other related items rather than couches as she navigates the site and changes her search behavior. The algorithm factors in a shopper’s recent purchase and browsing history, as well as the purchase and browsing patterns of similar shoppers, says Amit Goyal, senior vice president of software engineering at Overstock. For example, if a customer bought the same couch as the shopper, the algorithm will show her what ottomans those customers also ended up purchasing.

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“We believe that if we can personalize a consumer’s page to her style, with the colors she likes, with items within her budget, Overstock will be top of mind for her the next time she’s looking to make a purchase,” says J.P. Knab, senior vice president of marketing at Overstock.

Although Overstock has featured personalized elements on its website for years—starting with basic product-based personalization, such as organizing product pages based on price, color and material— the retailer is increasingly focused on tailoring content and page layouts. Overstock uses technology to sort and personalize the content on a page based on a shopper’s most recent click behavior. Because of this, if that algorithm sees that consumers are clicking on new content at the bottom of the page, it will quickly react and move that content higher up on the page so more shoppers will see it, Goyal says.

However, Overstock’s ability to personalize its site is dependent upon the data it can gather about a consumer. “It’s hard to personalize if we don’t have enough data,” Goyal says. “As we see more repeat behaviors, the user will have a more personalized experience.”

Even so, the retailer gathers data and begins tailoring its website content from the moment a shopper lands on Overstock.com using what’s called the “user agent,” which stores data such as browser name, device type and operating system, Goyal says. The retailer’s system then examines the purchase behaviors of users with similar user agents to see what they have purchased. From there, its personalization algorithm can start making more data-driven purchase predictions within just a few clicks on the site.

Since Overstock began using its personalization algorithm it has boosted a number of key performance indicators, including its conversion and return rate, Goyal says. For example, shoppers who see personalized recommendations convert at a greater rate than those who do not see personalized recommendations. Shoppers who see personalized content also visit more pages, Goyal says, without providing specific figures.

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“What these [key performance indicators] indicate is that our customers like the recommendations we are making and are engaged, which causes them to purchase now and return to our site in the future,” he says. 46.3% of Overstock’s shoppers were return shoppers in 2017, which means they came back after at least one visit to the site, up from 42.9% two years earlier, according to data from Internet Retailer’s Top500Guide.com.

Despite Overstock’s progress, it still has a long way to go, Goyal says. “We’re working on a new personalization algorithm with our machine-learning team,” he says. “We need to better identify the next step in the user journey. On top of that, we need to do all that very fast so it will become even more engaging.”

Trending now

Recommendations can be crucial to a retailer’s long-term success. 37% of shoppers who click a recommendation during their first visit to an e-commerce site came back, compared to just 19% for shoppers who didn’t, according to “The Personalization in Shopping Report” by Salesforce.com Inc., which analyzed 250 million website visits to 150 U.S. e-commerce websites from March to June 2017.

Women’s apparel retailer Diane von Furstenberg, for example, redesigned its e-commerce site about 18 months ago to show a feed of items that are “trending now” on its homepage. This feature is a lot like product recommendations and shows consumers items that have been recently purchased by other customers and other popular items on the site. The trending feed is automated for most visitors, including past customers, new visitors and returning non-purchasers, who are shoppers who have browsed items but did
not purchase anything.

When a shopper returns to DVF.com after browsing a few items on her last visit, she will see a pop-up message that shows her items she recently viewed, as well as the trending feed and a box to input her email. “We’re trying to jumpstart the experience, to get you right back where you started searching,” says Felipe Araujo, the retailer’s senior director of e-commerce.

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DVF tracked the recently viewed pop-up message and found that it accounted for $125,000 of its revenue in 2017, Araujo says. Its redesign also included a more mobile-friendly version of its website, resulting in a 400% increase in mobile conversion in 2017 over 2016. The apparel retailer also has boosted its sales so far in 2018, Araujo says, crediting much of the increase to its redesign efforts, but he declined to provide a more specific figure.

Fashion and beauty online marketplace Spring in July 2017 introduced an onboarding quiz to its mobile app as a way to put more personalized items in front of the consumer.

Mobile personalization

Spring offers more than 200,000 products with more than 1.5 million SKUs—mostly in apparel and accessories—from more than 2,000 brands. ShopSpring.com has more than 1 million monthly visitors, 60% of whom are repeat visitors, says Spring’s president Marshall Porter. Spring’s revenue comes from about half mobile shoppers on the Spring app and half from its website—and that revenue grew 273% in 2017 over 2016, Porter says, declining to provide a specific figure.

Spring’s app, which it built in-house, asks the shopper a series of onboarding questions, including her gender and clothing size. It also asks her to choose three items from a selection of six styles that she prefers.

“When you’re consuming our 1.5 million SKUs on a small device, it’s important to put relevant information in front of you, otherwise it can be overwhelming,” says Katherine Prime, chief customer officer at Spring. “We want to put personalization front and center. On the small screen, you can quickly discover products relevant to you.”

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Spring’s app tailors its available items to the shopper, highlighting products and sales from items that match her style while filtering out products that may not be relevant. For example, if the shopper is a size 8, she will not see products only available in size 2. The mobile app also takes the shopper’s local weather into account, Prime says. If it’s 32 degrees and snowing in April, the app will show her cold-weather items rather than summer items.

Despite the onboarding quiz, there are often some differences between how consumers self-identify their style and how they behave in the app, which is why Spring also infers their preferences based on their in-app actions.

“We’re collecting the appropriate amount of data that will enrich their experience,” Prime says. Those insights enable the app to surface different collections or brands for a shopper, which is important because “going through 1,500-plus brands can be overwhelming,” Prime says. “We’ll also surface sales relevant to her, based on price point, style and aesthetic.”

One-on-one connection

Personalization allows retailers to speak one-on-one with their consumers. That idea is what drove travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet to unveil a personalization-focused e-commerce site earlier this year. Its website was long overdue for an overhaul, says Mike Nelson, global director of e-commerce and commercial partnerships at Lonely Planet.

On its old site, Lonely Planet offered several different guides for the same destination or city with no real explanation or differentiations. For example, it has a London city guide, a Best of London guide and a pocket London guide, but consumers were often confused about which
to purchase.

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Lonely Planet’s new in-house recommendation engine, examines both the shopper’s behavior and how consumers in the same market behave and then recommends the best titles. The program is still learning, but it will become much more dynamic as it gains more actions within the site, Nelson says. The customer profiles are tied into LonelyPlanet.com, allowing the e-commerce site to serve the best personalized recommendations as it uses data from a shopper’s behavior on Lonely Planet’s forums, destination pages, video portal and apps.

“Our website crowdsources what’s trending right now, based on other users, and we display that to people in different markets,” Nelson says, offering shoppers “the best experience in that sense.”

Since the launch of its new site, bounce rates have decreased by 89% and website visits increased by 11.9%, Nelson says. Not only that, but in just a few weeks, Lonely Planet saw a 195% increase of products added to cart. Similar to Walmart, how that translates to sales is still too early to tell, Nelson says.

“You have a short window to prove to consumers you are able to deliver what’s valuable to her because the competition for her attention is incredibly high,” Spring’s Prime says. “Personalization allows you to nail the relevancy. The less work a customer has to do to engage with the platform is beneficial. When you get personalization right and put relevant content in front of customers with low attention spans, you can really get huge returns.”

 

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screts@verticalwebmedia.com | @StephCretsIR

 

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