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How to Build More Effective Personalized Product Recommendations

By Matt Killough

The stakes for eCommerce marketers have never been higher.

Today’s consumers now have a world of information at their fingertips that they can use to help drive their purchasing decisions. The days of shoppers simply walking into the local store and asking an associate for help are long gone. So too are the days of them looking at one or two retailers’ websites before making a decision. They now do mountains of research to identify what they want and they know there are multiple retailers to which they can go to get just that. So at a time when the competition has never been higher, how do you win and retain customers?

It’s all about personalization.

Personalization has become so critical to retail marketing success because the ability to create a one-to-one experience is exactly what will foster a sense of loyalty that keeps customers coming back time and again. That’s because getting personalization right creates a more seamless shopping experience and establishes an emotional connection by making shoppers feel like your brand “gets them” — among many other benefits.

Making One-to-One Retail Marketing a Reality with Personalized Product Recommendations

The benefits of creating a personalized, one-to-one retail marketing experience are clear, but how do you actually get there? To start, you need technology to help you track and tie together customer data, behavior data and catalog data. From there, you can begin to understand your customers’ past actions and their predicted future actions.

With those capabilities in place, there are numerous ways to approach personalization. For example, you might run targeted campaigns for different audience segments or include personalized product recommendations within batch or triggered emails.

Today, let’s focus on best practices for the latter of those two options — how to develop a strategy for effective personalized product recommendations. Here’s my advice:

1) Think about the audience you’re targeting

First and foremost, you always need to ask yourself “who are the customers that will ultimately receive this campaign?” The answer to that question should be a driving factor in deciding how you approach personalized product recommendations.

For example, a customer who came to your site and abandoned it at a category-level page without ever clicking on a specific product is much less engaged than a customer who added a product to their cart and then abandoned it.

With that in mind, you should use a broader product recommendation strategy for the first customer (the one who abandoned a category-level page), such as showing best sellers within the category they abandoned. You can get more targeted for the second customer (the one who abandoned their cart), for instance by doing a co-view recommendation that features products most viewed by other customers who also viewed the carted product.

2) Test and iterate regularly

Once you put in place an initial strategy around personalized product recommendations, let it run for a minimum of 2-3 weeks so that you can collect some baseline benchmarks for your specific customers and campaigns. Taking the time to collect these benchmarks is very important, as each retailer’s customers engage differently based on factors like vertical, products, price point, etc.

Once you have those baseline benchmarks, you can begin to test different strategies for personalized product recommendations to see if you can improve on your customer engagement metrics. This testing is an extremely important part of regularly improving your email marketing and is something that you should repeat regularly.

Far too often, marketers test one theory, choose the winner and then move on. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t go far enough. You should always be testing at least one variable in all of your recurring campaigns, and your product recommendation strategy is an easy one to test. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no “magic bullet” that works for all retailers, so constantly testing and optimizing should always be a part of your efforts to get personalized product recommendations right.

3) Don’t overthink it

One trap that I see even the strongest marketers fall into is being too close to their own business. When you live and breathe your brand, it becomes second nature to assume that you understand everything about your customers. But this assumption isn’t always right and it often leads marketers to over-engineer the rules for personalized product recommendations.

For instance, thinking “we know this person bought shirts, so lets recommend shorts” makes perfect sense, but it’s a decision based on very limited input. The beauty of using a platform that collects large quantities of data and automates product recommendations in real time based on customers’ onsite behavior is that the technology can make brand or category associations we would never even think to put together. Sometimes it’s simply best to let the data do all the heavy lifting.

Honing Your Personalized Product Recommendations is an Ongoing Effort

The bottom line here is that honing your strategy for personalized product recommendations is not an exact science. What works today might not necessarily work six months from now, so it’s something you need to iterate regularly. And given that providing relevant content to your customers is a never-ending process, it’s best to find the most efficient ways to meet that need.

Ready for more? Check out our step-by-step playbook for email marketers to see how you can bring these types of personalized product recommendations to life in your marketing.

Matt Killough

Matt Killough

Matt has 8+years of experience working in varying levels of Customer Success / Client Services roles within digital marketing. He currently manages the Customer Success team at Bluecore, which is responsible for the strategy and execution of digital campaigns across email, paid search, social and other channels.