Five minutes with Nosto on the new age of personalisation

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We sat down with James White, general manager at commerce experience platform Nosto, to discuss the ways customer expectations are changing and what more retailers can do to create better personalised services

What is personalisation and why is it important?

In practice, it means every customer sees what’s relevant to them. It’s essentially automating that physical store experience, where a sales assistant approaches you, takes you to the products you’re interested in and makes other recommendations.

Because of Covid, there’s more eCommerce traffic than ever before and there’s also a huge amount of choice. What personalisation does is help take the time to value down (the amount of time it takes a new customer to realise value from your product).

When you land on a personalised site, it’ll display the products you’ll most likely to be buying on your first visit, second visit, or the first time you’ve visited in six months. Based on your data and other customers that are similar to you – not on guess work or by showing generic products.

So you’re removing the complexity of decision-making for the customer and the complexity of manually guessing and updating, making it a two-fold benefit.

Are there different ways this can be applied?

There’s no real barrier to entry with personalisation. Brands can do it based on anonymous users, logged in users, loyal or first-time customers. It can be simple as all customers coming from Google Shopping and seeing a particular campaign. And as granular as all customers in a particular loyalty scheme seeing a personalised welcome back banner. It can go from huge swings of one to many, one to few and one to one - and everything in-between.

For example, one of our customers wants to move from a generic home page experience to having brand logos and user banners, served to users based on their affinities to different brands. And a ‘new in since your last visit’ section. So essentially every customer sees lines that are relevant to them and new stock since their last visit. So if you’re coming onto the site for the first time in a few months, the discovery process has been removed and you’re straight into viewing the particular brand and the season.

Do you think there’s more retailers can do?

Retailers like Amazon, Netflix, Asos do it really well and are market leaders in it. But a lot of other retailers, including some big names, are struggling with the basics. If I’m looking at shorts, show me similar shorts of the same price and colour. When I’m looking at men’s products - stop displaying women’s items!

Part of the problem is it hasn’t until recently been treated as a priority. If you think about creating an eCommerce store, there are lots of other things that take precedence. And they’re often things the consumer won’t see, such as site speeds and payment gateways – if you can’t take payments, you can’t have an eCommerce store. And things like email marketing are normally seen as a higher priority because it’s a very cheap source of customer retention and re-engagement. So that stuff always takes priority.

So personalisation comes third or fourth on that list. But as eCommerce matures it’s going to become more of a standard. In the last 18 months, we’ve seen more of a demand for these tools than ever before. But there is still a long way to go, and I think it comes down to retailers making time. Before it was treated like the finishing touches to your house, like the decorations. Now it’s becoming more of a need from day one.

What will the future customer journey look like?

Omnichannel is the word that has been talked about for at least ten years now. But still very few retailers do it, even the biggest ones. Again, Amazon is probably the only one doing it with their contactless checkout. No one else is going to beat them for a few years, but that is something to work towards: where you have an understanding of the customer wherever they are.

There are a lot of technologies at play at the moment: the endless aisle, headless implementation, mobile first experiences, machine learning. And because it’s evolving so fast, I don’t think anyone would want to put all of their eggs in one basket around what is going to be successful.

As technologists and eCommerce professionals, we do have a tendency to get excited about the latest fad. Over the years there’s been a lot of talk about using virtual reality, but it’s never really taken off. It can be easy to forget the customer often doesn’t normally care about a lot of these things as much as we do! I remember when I first went into eCommerce about seven years ago, lots of people were saying ‘email is dead’ - but it’s still the cheapest, most effective channel a retailer can invest in.

So in some ways, it’s not about reinventing the wheel but improving the wheel. if I were a retailer, I’d invest in improving the things I’ve already got, incrementally, to the point where I can start looking at the next thing. And for a lot of people, that next thing happens to be personalisation right now.

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