Ecommerce Personalization: The Fine Line between Effective and Creepy

Webpage displaying a pair of hiking boots with text that says "Jack, were these the boots you wanted? They're 30% off today."

Today’s savvy ecommerce business are boosting sales by using valuable data to personalize the shopping experience for their customers and site visitors. But, as many are finding, the amount of information you use, and the way you use it, can make the difference between creating a satisfied or a frustrated customer. When it comes to ecommerce personalization, the one thing every online business needs to know is that there is a fine line between being effective and being creepy.

In a 2013 study from Janrain, a technology company that provides software-as-a-service solutions to help organizations improve customer acquisition and intelligence, 74 percent of the people surveyed said that they get frustrated with websites that show content, offers, ads and promotions that have nothing to do with their interests. Online consumers want a shopping experience that is tailored to their preferences and has relevance to their interests and needs. If an online retailer is going to “invade” the consumer’s space with ads, promotions and other marketing tools, then it has to have meaning. Otherwise, it will generate frustration and result in the loss of a customer.

Two other findings from the study show that 57 percent of those surveyed would provide personal information on a website as long as it’s for their own benefit and being used in a responsible way. More importantly, 77 percent would trust businesses more if they explained how they are using the personal information to improve the online experience.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of intrusive online and mobile tracking practices, resulting in demand for more transparency”, commented Meyar Heik, CEO and co-founder of Certona, an omnichannel personalization technology that delivers personalized customer experiences for some of the world’s most popular retail brands including Puma, Steve Madden, L’Oreal. “The lack of transparency has been prevalent for far too long, and it has eroded the public’s trust. Customers are willing to share information as long as they understand what it’s being used for and how. Brands that prioritize transparency will gain customers’ trust and dollars for long-term success.”

So where does the balance lie between giving the customer what they want and simply going overboard? As Heik points out, “Consumers want to be entertained and engaged with their favorite brands. The best way to do this is to collect relevant data points about a customer and use that information to personalize every point of interaction. Creating a great experience starts by collecting non-intrusive and insightful data about a customer, such as contextual or behavioral information. It’s more important for a retailer, for example, to understand that a customer may spend 10 minutes scanning the sale section of a website, but only two minutes looking at the ‘just arrived’ products. This information will shape a brand’s messaging and product recommendation engine and be more effective at converting the browser into a buyer.”

There are a number of effective methods an online retailer can use to personalize the consumer’s experience. Here are a few examples:


    Customize your site by adding “Welcome NAME” at the top of your site for returning or logged in customers.


    Create custom landing pages based on keyword searches that take visitors directly to what they are looking for on your site.


    For returning customers, you can create recommendations of items that relate to their previous purchases. Take it a step further by asking the customer if the recommendation is good or bad. Customers like to be part of the dialogue and including them not only lets them know you want their input, but allows you to fine-tune future recommendations.


    You can send customized content — ads, blogs and articles — based on your customer’s preferences directly to their inbox. This method not only provides them content that they will find valuable, but helps direct them back to your website.

For those online retailers looking to add personalization to their site, there are a number of affordable ecommerce solutions that can help them get started, including Baynote, Barilliance, Personyze and many others.

“The data-sharing economy is not a free-for-all; it must be mutually beneficial for all parties involved,” adds Heik as a final comment. By using effective ecommerce solutions and following known tips and strategies, online retailers can more carefully walk the fine line between effectively catering to their customers and just being creepy.

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