Personalizing the Online Shopping Experience

Retailers increasingly use data to personalize an internet shopping experience. Geo location, browsing and shopping history, weather all can affect how products are introduced to internet shoppers. One of the leaders in personalization technology is Monetate. Its co-founder and CEO, David Brussin, recently talked with Practical eCommerce.

Practical eCommerce: What does personalizing a shopping experience mean, exactly?

David Brussin:“When you consider retail before the world wide web, it was a really personal interaction. You’re talking to a different individual in a store. You are interacting with a great deal of people and goods and physical displays. The people working in that store have an chance to pay attention. They’ve an chance to listen to you, to how many times you’ve been there and possibly what you purchased previously. They’ve an chance to listen to everything you said about everything you were searching for and which things you seemed to enjoy or fit you nicely, if it had been an apparel retailer.

Online, the chance — when we got started in this area in the’90s — was to perform even better, to listen to more information about the connection between the customer and brand and to make the experience more applicable to each individual shopper.

“Regrettably, some of the technology, particularly in the early days, has gotten in the way of that. Monetate delivers on that initial idea that shopping online can be more private, more relevant, and more valuable for the consumer and for the merchant than it was in a physical context.”

PEC: When a visitor is on a retail website, can you personalize browsing results, website search results, or all the above?

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Brussin:“Browsing results, website search results, and everything in between. When visitors come into a website that is being personalized by Monetate, we are paying attention to all of the information that could help us provide those visitors a much better experience. Where they are coming from, what the weather’s like there, what they may be looking for, what they have searched for, and possibly what they purchased before.

“We can use that information to produce all sorts of changes. We can alter the structure of this page they are seeing, the material creative, or adjust the photography to be relevant. By way of instance, if you’re looking for apparel in nyc, you’re likely going to be searching for styles which are somewhat different than if you’re in Dallas, Texas.”

PEC: What type of data are you referring to? Let us just cite that example you gave usa shopper in New York versus a contributor at Dallas.

Brussin:“Well, all the data that we listen to is anonymous. We do not know who the visitor is. But we know some things about their connection with that specific brand. We know roughly where they are coming from — what town. We know a lot that is based on where they are coming from. What the weather is like there, what shops are in their own neighborhood. We all know how they came into that visit. Can they click on an advertisement in Google? Did they hunt for something? Can they come in straight or click on a link in an email?

“We all know what that anonymous visitor did the last time they had been on the website. Did they purchase something? Was it a specific brand or category they were interested in? We can use all that to offer context to know a little bit about the customer and what is relevant for them in their life and their intent. What are they actually searching for? What exactly are they trying to accomplish now?”

PEC: How do you tell intent?

Brussin:“We must infer intent unless they do something quite explicit to inform us. We can infer intent from things like a search. If a person searches on the website for a specific brand or possibly a colour or a size or a certain solution, it tells us something about their intent, that they are interested in that specific item or things which may be related to that product.”

PEC: Say I am a 53-year-old man in Colorado. I go to one of your customers — a retail clothing website — and I am searching for a shirt to purchase for myself. How will my experience differ from a 22-year-old man that lives in Florida?

Brussin:“Beginning with age, we do not know that you are a 53-year-old person, and we do not know that another visitor is a 22-year-old man. What we know maybe about age or about sex is your interest that you express through your actions, through your behaviour on the website.

“If you run in an apparel site and you search for men’s products as opposed to women’s, we can infer that you are probably shopping for a guy. It may be on your own, it may be for somebody else. Based on the styles that you focus in on, we may be able to infer something about your personality pursuits. Now, that may be highly correlated with age, but we do not actually know that you are a guy, and we do not actually know that you are 53 years old. Coming from Colorado, looking at products for guys on a clothing website, there are a couple of things which we can predict that are likely to be relevant for you than they are for somebody who’s behaving differently and coming in from somewhere else.

“Number one, the products that sell well to people coming in the geographical area you are coming from may be somewhat more important for you. Especially in apparel, there is a style context that people in Colorado are likely wearing colors and styles which are little different than what people are wearing in different places. That is reflected in the world and has been for several years. Even the big brands with shops all around the nation inventory and merchandise their stores otherwise in Colorado than they do in Florida. They concentrate on the products that sell well in Colorado. That is one of the first things that we can do.

“We may change the photography to be more applicable to your place, maybe showing lifestyle shots which feature a Colorado vista instead of an urban environment in New York or a shore environment in Florida. A beach does not have lots of significance for you coming in from Colorado. Mountains don’t have plenty of significance for tourist coming from Florida — unless it is in a traveling hospitality area.”

PEC: To continue the example, say I complete buying a top for myself under the situation we just discussed. 1 week later, I go to the specific merchant looking for a shirt for my 22-year old nephew, who resides in Florida. Can I find something there that appeals to him?

Brussin:“When you first return into the website, you may see things that are tailored to what we understand from our relationship with you up to now. That retailer will want to concentrate on what they think they have learned. You have come in from Colorado; you have obtained a specific brand and category before, maybe certain colors and sizes. The best prediction we are going to have at the point about you will be based on what you purchased the previous moment.

“Should you begin to shop for something else, then we get new real time data. We get data that states that now you are showing an intent that is different. That starts to be a part of the film in real time. We can begin to concentrate on showing you content, the products we experienced who are likely to be relevant for somebody who’s searching for the products that you are considering, which in this case may be to your 22-year-old nephew.”

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PEC: Is personalization great for all retailers? Can you think about a scenario where a merchant wouldn’t wish to use personalization?

Brussin:“I believe that customer experience expectations have changed dramatically during the last few decades. The iPhone is an excellent marker of the start of this period. Additionally, it happens to coincide with the Web 2.0 revolution in interface design on sites. Those 2 things marked the beginning of a stage where consumers begin to find that some brands were supplying them with very rich and relevant contextual experiences. Before that, I think that manufacturers can get away without doing any personalization. I think it hurt them, but they can get away with it.

“Today, it is a very different story. There is a spectrum at the same end. If you are not doing enough personalization, you are actually offering a bad customer experience as it is disrespectful; it ignores the context of this connection which you as a brand have with this particular customer. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you may have personalization that may be disrespectful by being creepy or over-the-top. There is a balance. There is a place in the middle of the spectrum. It is different for every brand. But no significance, no circumstance, and no customization I believe is no more an option for any brand.”

PEC: You stated”creepy” personalization. What is that?

Brussin:“The grade here is considering what surprises a customer in a terrible way. In the event you use the information regarding your relationship with a specific consumer in a manner that they expect, that is respectful. That says,’I really bear in mind that you’re my client. I recall our relationship. I remember what you bought from me before. I am not going to do disrespectful things like attempt to sell you a product you’ve already purchased.’

“If you think about some of what is happening in the advertising industry that’s outside the context of what we work on, there are people talking about what it means for customer information to stream from site to site and for advertisers to know what articles you may have read on one website when you visit another website. That gets into a kingdom where the consumer isn’t necessarily expecting that. They don’t expect this to be a part of your circumstance. They are not expecting you to understand or listen to their surfing history.

“If you use that information, it might be surprising in a terrible way. It might make the consumer feel like they have been surprised that there is some attention being paid which they did not ask for or expect.

“I don’t think that impacts our clients because our clients are working in the context of a single brand and a connection with a customer in the context of the brand. I believe that the job they do to listen to that connection actually falls squarely in the category of things that the customer does anticipate and, increasingly to my point earlier, that the customer needs.”

PEC: You are the co-founder of Monetate. When did you start the organization? Who owns it?

Brussin:“My partner, David Bookspan, and I founded the company in January 2008, just over five decades back. We’re a venture-backed technology firm, meaning that the business is encouraged by venture investors. We have got some great investors at First Round Capital and OpenView Venture Partners. They’re helping to finance and support the rapid development of our organization.

“We are located just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We’ve got a few offices around the U.S. and individuals spread all across the U.S. and an office with a bunch of people in London, England too.”

PEC: Tell us about some success stories of organizations that have employed your platform.

Brussin:“One of the things I’m most proud of at Monetate is the effect we have had on some of the world’s biggest brands. Conventional retailers such as Macy’s, Petco, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and pure trade players such as Freshpair and Revolve Clothing, even QVC, use Monetate to induce a far better experience for their customers and to drive more revenue for their companies. We are also in the publishing space with terrific customers like National Geographic and the hospitality and travel space with fantastic brands such as Frontier Airlines.”

PEC: Anything else?

Brussin:“Among the most significant trends I am seeing is the change to customer-centricity. Marketers and sellers everywhere are concentrated on a large shift in trade that puts the customer on peak of the organizational chart. They was at the base of a whole lot of different channels. Now, the client is ending up on peak of the organization chart. That focus on the client produces a mandate to actually understand their connection between brand and client, and to have the ability to act on it, to do the correct things for each individual client.

“What we have seen is that the ideas behind the huge data movement — being able to listen to more information, to perform it in real time — are actually becoming mainstream.”

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