Op-Ed: The Secret Ingredient to Providing Relevant Retail Recommendations

With the proliferation of e-commerce, some may assume that it has never been easier for shoppers to find their ideal items with just a few quick taps or clicks. Today’s consumers have access to multiple online stores, innumerable products to choose from and helpful reviews — so selecting and buying footwear and apparel online should be simple, convenient and enjoyable, right?

Unfortunately, having unlimited online shopping choices can be a double-edged sword. While consumers welcome a variety of options, being inundated with too many can be overwhelming, time-consuming and frustrating. Simply put, today’s consumers are complex — they want a variety of choices, but also have incredibly high standards when it comes to online shopping experiences. In fact, according to a recent consumer survey, 70 percent said they will not return to a website after having a bad experience.

Fashion, apparel and footwear retailers are especially challenged with delivering the enjoyable online experiences that shoppers demand. Not only are these categories highly saturated and competitive, it is also difficult for consumers to find the best items that suit their individual needs and preferences.

Additionally, shopping online can never truly replicate the in-store experience of seeing and trying on clothes or footwear and having store associates recommend items for each individual.

For example, searching for a new pair of running shoes is highly dependent on the specific shopper. The consumer could be an elite-level, long-distance runner or someone who needs comfortable footwear for running errands. One shopper may care about price and appearance, while another might prioritize technical utility.

When visiting a physical sporting goods store or specialty running shop, associates can suggest the most appropriate shoes based on each consumer’s needs and use cases, but providing a similar customer experience for online shoe shoppers is much harder to do.

What’s the solution?

One of the most effective ways to solve this issue — especially in tough categories like apparel and footwear — is through personalization. When brands and retailers truly understand their customers and provide relevant product recommendations based on previous shopping and purchase behaviors, consumers stay on websites longer and spend more. In fact, a recent report shows that apparel retailers that implement personalization strategies see sales gains of 10 percent or more, a rate three times higher than other retailers’.

Without personalization, retailers risk providing an annoying or unremarkable customer experience and losing potential buyers. Bazaarvoice’s recent survey revealed that 44 percent of consumers say a personalized home page is useful when shopping for apparel, but only 23 percent say they have actually experienced this.

The ROI benefits are clear. Why aren’t retailers delivering?

The key to successful personalization is having good data. It may seem surprising, but shoppers do not mind sharing their data as long as brands meet them halfway. Research shows that most consumers are comfortable with companies collecting their personal data, as long as it “leads to products and services that make their lives easier and more entertaining, educate them and save them money.

The tricky part is using the right type of customer data that can deliver the relevance and convenience consumers want and expect. Using the previous running shoe example, it’s not enough to recommend products based on traditional demographic data. Though there may be multiple middle-aged women shopping for new running shoes, their interests, tastes and lifestyles likely widely differ. Ultimately, the best running shoe for one woman may not be the most appropriate for another.

Effective personalization engines serve up recommendations that align with an individual’s personal preferences and shopping intent. Learning what items consumers are researching and buying can tell you a lot about a person, regardless of their age, gender or geographic location.

In brick-and-mortar stores, associates would never use a one-size-fits-all mentality when recommending apparel or footwear to shoppers. It’s time the online world caught up and delivered more relevance and personalized experiences for their customers.

Drew Giovannoli is the product marketing manager at Bazaarvoice.

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