Personalized homepage claimed to be a ‘retail first’

Discussion
Apr 13, 2015

Declaring it a "retail first," Shop Direct, the U.K.’s fourth largest retailer, last week launched a fully personalized homepage for its flagship brand, Very.co.uk.

Visitors to Very.co.uk can now be greeted with homepages designed specifically for them. Shop Direct states, "This means that the twenty something who shops with Very.co.uk for that perfect party frock can find her favorite fashion brands ‘front of shop’ whilst the homemaker looking to furnish their abode can view electrical and homeware offers."

Tapping its "wealth of customer data," the company uses algorithms to predict customer behavior and optimize individual homepages with targeted products and offers. The algorithm produces 200 million promotion affinity scores, which rank the relevance of offers for each customer.

In sum, Shop Direct can serve 1.2 million versions of the website to its customers considering the combinations of which promotional messages are used and in what position. Shop Direct expects this number to rise to 3.5 million by the end of the year.

Shop Direct said it has already introduced personalized website navigation across its websites, using browsing behavior and purchase history to order the department store categories based on their relevance. Customers, for example, who regularly search its sites for items for kids will be presented first with the toys and child & baby categories at the far left of the navigation panel.

"We know that relevance wins in retail and right now customers are drowning in a sea of irrelevant choices," said Shop Direct group chief executive Alex Baldock, in a statement. "This is the digital equivalent of Selfridges laying out their Oxford Street store for each shopper."

According to the recently released Accenture Personalization Survey, the most popular choices in personalized online experiences are websites optimized by device (64 percent) and promotional offers for items the customer is strongly considering (59 percent).

Does personalization hold more potential to transform the online or brick & mortar shopping experience? What limits do you see to the value of online personalization?

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16 Comments on "Personalized homepage claimed to be a ‘retail first’"

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Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

We all have experienced the “Amazon Effect” of shopping the site for a gift and then getting recommendations that are not relevant for some time thereafter. Personalizing customers’ landing pages may be beneficial, but it is fraught with the potential to turn consumers off if the suggestions aren’t relevant. Most consumers want to arrive at a retail site (either brick-and-mortar or e-commerce), quickly find what they are looking for and then have an easy checkout experience. Retailers should focus on simplicity and great customer service.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The ability to personalize the shopping experience to this extent seems a little creepy to me but I am sure that many people will love it. Why have to wade through looking at stuff you have no interest in when some algorithm can predetermine what you might like? This is just further along the continuum utilized by many sites today that say if you are looking at one item you might also want to see information on this other similar item.

It would be impossible to do the same thing at a brick-and-mortar retailer. For a department store (remember them?) the departmentalization of items by brand, price, size, season, etc., is likely close to its apex. The customized store approach is more likely to be most closely applicable to specialty stores, i.e., I know store X is “my store” because it carries the items I want.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Personalization absolutely has more potential online—brick-and-mortar stores just don’t have the flexibility. While in-store mobile apps could help guide shoppers they will never be quite as specialized as the online experience has the potential to be.

One important thing to remember when customizing the online shopping experience is that shoppers are ever-changing. The same customer who currently only visits very.co.uk for party dresses will soon enough be looking for home goods. It is important for loyal shoppers to be aware of the variety of goods their retailer offers and for the retailer to offer up new categories at the relevant time.

Mark Heckman
BrainTrust

I think most of us would intuitively believe that personalization is more suited for the online experience, given the flexibilities of the medium versus brick-and-mortar stores. However, for multiple-channel retailers, online personalization can be the catalyst for companion technology and associate engagement in-store that can bridge the gap between the two environments.

In fact, without blending the two worlds, shoppers will ultimately become frustrated with the dichotomy of engaging in a very personalized world of online shopping (or pre-shopping), only to walk into a store that doesn’t know you from Adam, (or Eve).

Locational targeting, shopping apps and associates’ access to shopper information in-store are leading the way to a personalized in-store experience. Progress is being made, but much work is yet to be done.

Marge Laney
BrainTrust
2 years 4 months ago

It’s becoming very clear that online research drives brick-and-mortar sales. Giving customers a way to consolidate their online activity, both research and purchase, makes it an even better tool.

This particular tool also gives retailers another way to connect with customers other than relentless emails. Customers can view all communication from their favorite retailers at one time on one site. Brilliant.

Once the customer enters the store, however, the game changes. Personalized service means service from a person. Customers who opt-in to a retailer’s app should experience associates who have instant access to their research, preferences and purchase history from their online activities.

For the rest, customers just want to find what they came to purchase in stock, talk to associates who know the products, and get service at their convenience. Period.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Again the devil is in the details. How adaptable are the algorithms? Many sites using suggestion tools have problems deciphering between when a consumer has been shopping for a gift and is not interested in that product at all, when a consumer is shopping for something they need and are not interested after making a purchase, and when a consumer is seriously browsing. If the adapted homepages offer something the consumer really want and/or is interested in at that time is likely to be very successful. Not all algorithms are equally successful.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Now we’re talking.

This is an opportunity for a retailer to have a meaningful conversation with customers, who’ll want to return to the site soon to see what else is offered, and customers will have an incentive to offer up more information about what they prefer. This will be interesting to watch.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Can we please stop calling dropping in fields personalization? It’s an algorithm. Personalization has a face.

I have experimented with adding fields into my own site at SalesRX.com but have found 1. The creepy effect is real to those who return and 2. The cost to make it so is not worth the “gee whiz.”

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

I think there is a fine line with personalization. Amazon has the balance right. The site is still Amazon but with some “courtesy” personalization. I like that. There was some site I went to where the homepage was all pinterest pictures (forgot the site, sorry). That was horrible IMHO. The brand and experience needs to be cohesive and too much personalization can get creepy.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

There is tremendous potential for select, smart personalization. But I think we need to be far more careful than the enthusiasts for personalization seem to believe.

Shopping (whether online or at brick-and-mortar stores) for many happens best with anonymity. And the more those anonymous preference shoppers are pestered with ill-considered attempts at personalization, the less they’ll shop at your store (regardless of if it’s brick-and-mortar or online).

That said, my instinct is that there’s far higher risk in brick-and-mortar personalization as we saw in the recent Walgreens “Be well, ___” greeting attempt. And I wrote about my experience with personalized greetings at 24 Hour Fitness (not retail, but there’s a good lesson here anyway).

I think we should also take care because many of those selling us on the idea of personalization are the data crunchers who are looking for ways to make money off their databases—sometimes not terribly concerned if WE make money with what they recommend.

Jason Goldberg
BrainTrust
In response to the question “More value online or in the store,” I think for most categories, when you get relevancy right it adds value at every touch-point the consumer wants to use, but it adds the most value in the store (where 94% of purchase decisions are still made). It is just harder to be relevant for every shopper in a physical store than it is on a digital experience. I actually don’t think “personalization” intrinsically adds value, online or in the store. And it certainly isn’t a very good thing to set as a goal. First of all, “personalization” isn’t something you can achieve, it’s a tactic. If your landing page says “Hello Jason” is that personalization? If you use a recomendations engine that simply customizes product suggestions is that customization? If your goal is to have “personalization” how will you know when you’ve achieved it? Secondly, personalization does NOT automatically equal relevance. Zulily claims to generate millions of unique home pages, but those landing pages still primarily promote products I’m not interested in. Dillards sends me an e-mail each week with the subject line “Just for You,” which promotes primarily women’s apparel that is not very relevant… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

It’s just easier to do online, but personalization needs to happen a lot more at bricks too—like Converse is doing now. Even if they don’t sell thousands of personalized Chuck’s out of their Santa Monica store, they’re at least making the statement that you can, which in many cases, is enough. Look for more of that, especially from the apparel guys.

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust

I love this.

When location, location, location really becomes a brand’s location in a consumer’s mindset, we’ll see much more of this.

If done right, the idea of coming back either for excitement or convenience makes a whole lot of sense. If they can move beyond Amazon’s dumb offers (I’m good with my supply of HDMI cables, thanks.) and give me relevant, seasonal, taste and size-right specifics then it will be scalable and valuable.

More and more, consumers will be expecting the in-store experience to be more like that on their phones and desktops. Can an environment be personalized?

Absolutely.

With the right infrastructure, the environment can know I’m there, throw relevant items, combinations, and incentives on in-aisle screens and our personal devices.

We need to start thinking about why people are responding to online models and bringing those values to the stores.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I love personalization. I walk into a store and I’m greeted. The sales rep remembers me and calls me by name. Even remembers what I bought the last time—and didn’t buy. Then makes suggestions. Sounds like a great experience. And, I had it at both a retail story and on Amazon—same day. Personalization is going to be more common. The experience makes the customer want to come back—and spend more money.

Arie Shpanya
Guest

It’s much easier to personalize online than it is in-store. Changing the products highlighted on the homepage after a purchase is much more plausible than changing an in-store display based on an individual shopper’s interaction with a retailer.

The online shopping experience is already benefiting greatly from a more personalized experience, but it must be done in a way that respects shoppers’ privacy.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
2 years 4 months ago

This is called Amazon. It’s a user habit based customization. Nothing new, just getting better and more companies are doing it.

These companies are emerging as another “channel” alternative to full price retail stores and discount price boxes.

Here’s where this falls short. If you have a known commodity it works. Fast, easy, and convenient. But if you want or need something new or different, you’ll more likely seek it in a specialized environment whether online or in-store.

I’m sure the mass customization retailers will also have a “treasure hunt” experience incorporated, but they won’t own that alone.

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