Guest Post from Jil Maassen, Lead Strategy Consultant at Optimizely

“Most consumers are creatures of habit. From essential purchases through to large scale items, people find comfort in the familiar. So much so, that 81 percent of consumers make purchasing decisions based on brand trust. But 2020 has ripped up the rulebook, and has turned customer relationships on their head. Building strong customer relationships used to be business-critical, but brands can no longer assume their customers will return for more out of habit, so maintaining their interest past the initial sale is imperative.

The catalyst for this change came when the pandemic forced consumers online. Whilst this shift may have made little difference to the millennial and younger audiences, for others, the digital experience shifted buyers’ attitudes as it enabled them to explore other options. Recent research suggests a staggering 75 percent of consumers have tried new brands, places to shop, or methods of shopping over the past six months. Routine shopping excursions and ‘grab and go’ purchases are a thing of a past, as people adjust to working from home and the restricted in-store shopping experience. The result? Online shopping has reached the masses, making it much easier for people to explore, compare, and try new products at the click of a button.

This significant transformation to online retail means shifting the gears on customer experience, and with the most important shopping season around the corner, businesses are in a desperate attempt to maintain, and if possible, grow customer engagement during the holidays. So what will differentiate the successful from the sufferers?

Keeping up with customers

Consumers normally spend a bit of time in a physical store looking around, but when browsing online, consumers can spend as little as ten seconds searching for something before choosing to go to three similar sites, at the click of a button, if they haven’t had the experience they wanted.

Whether it was a prompt on the website requiring them to re-enter their information countless times or being marketed irrelevant products and content, losing customers to competitors is a much higher possibility online. Therefore, grabbing and then maintaining people’s attention online is crucial. If someone goes to a website to purchase a desk lamp, but the initial search brings up irrelevant results (such as floor lamps, ceiling lighting, and childrens’ night lights), it won’t take a lot of persuading for that person to move on to a different website.

Personalisation is no longer desirable, it is a basic expectation for more than half of consumers. However, businesses all-too-often assume that personalisation is only for ecommerce giants such as Amazon, with access to huge amounts of data and complex AI algorithms. But this is far from the case. Through experimentation, businesses of all shapes and sizes can utilise the insights they have on customers, in order to build personalisation into their experience.

Experimentation starts with data

So how do companies create effective personalised experiences? The answer lies in data. First businesses need to take stock of all the data points they hold. More specifically, the complete and comprehensive data, that reflects the entire customer lifecycle and customer interactions, from all touchpoints. This means companies need to track every interaction a customer has with them such as; how the customer is using the product, which emails they are opening, what products they are showing most interest in and how they are engaging with the website.

Having a complete set of data is the foundation of effective personalisation because it enables you to see the whole picture. For example, complete data sets that span touchpoints can help you avoid redundancy. If a business has sent out a piece of promotional content to a potential buyer via email and they have clicked on it (and presumably read it), then you don’t want to continue pushing the same content at the prospect when they visit the website – they are already engaged. It would make more sense to display a different piece of content that is related, which will help move the prospect through the funnel – like a ‘quick buy now’ button. By tracking which content the customer engaged with, a business can better personalise the experience once they reach the website.

Through experimentation, brands can hone personalised experiences to their specific audiences. They can see the benefits in customer retention on a small scale, before adopting the change in their main platform.

Redefining the customer experience

This holiday season, brands will compete online to attract and retain customers, and personalisation will be among the biggest determinators for those that succeed. As brands face an ongoing turbulent landscape in 2021, the core to retaining customers is offering shopping experiences that are tailored to their specific needs. Personalisation is a great way to build relationships with customers and ultimately retain them longer. It also gives the opportunity to more effectively upsell or renew their business when the time comes. Businesses need to help existing customers get more value out of their product by providing tailored content based on their usage and engagement, in order to keep them happy this holiday season. Whilst making a good first impression is important, failing to meet expectations as they progress through their buying journey could put businesses on the naughty list for far longer than just this holiday season.”