We all love existing customers and returning visitors. The question is, do they love you back? Without ecommerce personalization, the answer is no.

Despite being the backbone of sustained growth and long-term profitability, ecommerce brands rarely make the most of the customers and leads they already have. By not catering to the preference and needs of existing users, you can end up wasting thousands on acquisition.

Personalization offers a solution. Unfortunately, for large and small merchants alike, ecommerce personalization can feel daunting.

That’s why this article looks at 10 easy ways to personalize your onsite and offsite marketing.

  1. Start with the Almighty Email
  2. Segment from the First Click
  3. Pick Up Where They Left Off
  4. Rescue Carts with Hyper-Specific Emails
  5. But Also, Get Personal and Direct
  6. Target Offers at the Product-Page Level
  7. Retarget at the Product Level As Well
  8. Then, Give Them What Everybody Else Wants
  9. Separate “Previously Viewed” from “Recommended”
  10. Make Post-Purchase Reviews Easy and Worth

But first, the bad news …

When Ecommerce Personalization Goes Wrong

At first glance, Function of Beauty is built for personalization. In fact, the primary call to action on their website promises it:

What follows is a four-step, built-just-for-you approach to hair care (complete with personally branded bottles), after which, you’re invited to create an account with your email address and place an order.

To test Function of Beauty’s personalization, immediately after signing up, I closed the browser … and waited.

What happened next was heartbreaking.

Instead of an abandoned-cart email with the fully customized shampoo and conditioner I had created, about an hour later I received an invitation to the hair quiz I’d just completed:

While disappointing, thankfully, my answers were automatically repopulated when I clicked through the email on my laptop — although I still had to click through all four parts of the quiz to get back to the order page.

However, when I switched devices clicked that same email on my phone, things fell apart. Everything I’d entered before was gone and I had to start over from scratch.

About a week later, I received another email with the subject line: “Here’s $5!” The email didn’t contain an image of the colors I’d selected, but still, this had to be the personalized abandoned-cart email I’d been waiting for.

Sadly — while the text, imagery, and button all pointed to a one-click experience — instead, I ended up back on the homepage facing the original invitation to “Start Hair Quiz.”

Few ecommerce sites have the kind of personalized experience and beautiful design that Function of Beauty offers. It’s stunning, fun, delightful, and enticing.

Until it’s not.

The moment a user steps away and steps back, it breaks down.

These types of experiences are near universal. They’re toxic to acquisition, retention, loyalty, and love. So, what can you do about it?

10 Easy Ways to Fix the Ecommerce Personalization Problem

1. Start with the Almighty Email

You might think onsite personalization begins and ends with cookies. Unfortunately, that approach is only half right. Cookies don’t recognize the person; they recognize the browser. With the rise of multi-device consumers who shop across different browsers, applications, and channels … cookies alone no longer work.

The centerpiece of personalization should be the almighty email address. This means ensuring you prioritize email collection through triggered pop-ups and other offers above all else. It also means integrating email collection with (1) your ecommerce platform, (2) your email service provider, and (3) whatever personalization tools you use onsite as well as off.

2. Segment from the First Click

Speaking of collecting emails, perhaps the easiest and yet most underutilized approach to personalization is segmenting your audience from the point of signup (e.g., the first click).

There are two ways of doing this that don’t force you to rely on advanced strategies like user behavior, artificial intelligence, or machine learning. First, every ecommerce business should maintain at least two lists:

  1. Leads
  2. Customers

Second, if you sell products that fall along hard-and-fast demographic boundaries — i.e., male versus female, children versus adults, etc. — then add those divisions to your initial signup process.

Online shoe retailer Greats does this with a two-part pop-up that segments visitors through their preferred communication channel — email versus text — and then by gender:

3. Pick Up Where They Left Off

As illustrated above, forcing customers to rebuild their carts or go hunting for the items they’ve previously viewed are conversion killers.

Rather than get the same generic experience as first-time visitors, returning visitors should get a “pick up where you left off” experience. Think of this as the ecommerce personalization equivalent of Netflix’s “Continue Watching” feature:

Adding this to your homepage gives returning shoppers a seamless experience:

4. Rescue Carts with Hyper-Specific Emails

Roughly 70% of all online shopping carts are abandoned. But not all abandoned carts are created equal. Traditional reasons include …

And yet, the number one reason — segmented out of the above chart — has nothing to do with an e-commerce site’s failings. Rather, it’s simple: “I was just browsing / not ready to buy.”

The best way to approach abandoned carts, therefore, is to keep it simple.

In place of additional discounts, which can lower your brand’s value, reminder emails of what was left behind sent 24-48 hours after abandonment should be your first line of defense. Bikini Luxe does this masterfully by sequencing personalized emails that (1) always include the exact items, (2) offer a free gift in the second email, and (3) include a payment-plan option in the third:

5. But Also, Get Personal and Direct

On top of email, forward-looking businesses are offering personalization through Facebook Messenger and SMS. Bikini Luxe, for instance, uses CartBack to automate a three-part series of cart-abandonment messages.

Notice that — similar to the emails above — this sequence keeps it simple with just the items left behind, an exclusive Facebook coupon, and a carefully seeded note about their monthly giveaways (middle pane) “so you could essentially get your entire order for free.”

Another multi-million-dollar merchant (and one of my personal favorites), Pura Vida Bracelets, does the same thing via Messenger using ShopMessage, but also adds SMS to the mix — this time with the ecommerce tool Retention Rocket — for visitors that provide their phone numbers during checkout, but don’t complete the purchase:

6. Target Offers at the Product-Page Level

While most ecommerce sites use pop-ups to collect email addresses at entry and exit, few are genuinely personalized. An easy way to begin making your pop-ups stand out is to apply whatever discount you’re currently offering site wide … to the exact product, page, and price a user happens to be on. Greats, for example, does this by dynamically inserting the default product image as well as a discount-applied price to pop-ups on each of their pages:

In essence, this approach is little more than simple math, but it leverages a host of micro-conversion factors like consistency and commitment as well as visually highlighting price comparisons.

7. Retarget at the Product Level As Well

Much like generic pop-ups onsite, generic retargeting ads offsite cry out for personalization. The fix here is to ad retargeting pixels to at least your most popular, highly-trafficked pages and make product-page-level ads your go-to strategy.

Lingerie seller, Savagexfenty, does this brilliantly. After visiting two of their most popular items and adding them to cart (I was shopping for my wife, I promise), within 24 hours carousel ads for those specific items combined with language that reflected my onsite behavior began showing up in my Facebook feed:

This creates continuity between your channels and a smooth experience for would-be customers.

But, what if they don’t come back?

8. Then, Give Them What Everybody Else Wants

In answer to the previous question, most companies respond, “Brand awareness.” It’s an antiquated term carried over from traditional forms of advertising. The goal is to stay top of mind.

A far more effective approach is to offer non-responsive visitors a mix of generalized brand awareness ads with ads for products they’re nearly guaranteed to like. You can do this by creating dynamic ads on Facebook and Instagram tied to your current best sellers.

Using an app called Shoelace, cosmetics retailer 100% Pure does this by retargeting customers with blog post and Canvas ads on Facebook 1-3 after they’ve visited the site and then with Engagement Story Ads on Instagram of their top-selling products during days 5-7:

These types of ads ensure you’re always serving up fresh content as well as a small touch of personalization by reflecting what other customers already love. In the case of 100% Pure, their $110,000 retargeting spend returned $1.8 million in sales.

9. Separate “Previously Viewed” from “Recommended”

Depending on the variety of products you sell, recommendation engines have a notoriously bad reputation for delivering personalization. This is why separating “previously viewed” items from “recommended” products is crucial.

MMA Warehouse divides product-page suggestions along these lines to capture both similar products related directly to the page itself — “Related Items” — as well as a visitor’s previous browsing activity — “Recently Viewed Items.”

Even savvier is 100% Pure’s approach to separate associated products by including, first, an “Other Customers Also Bought” section on each product page and, second, a “Complete the Package” pop-up for previously viewed products:

Whatever you end up calling these different types of cross-sells, the point is the same: hedge your bets by offering both.

10. Make Post-Purchase Reviews Easy and Worth It

As a final touch in the personalization process: post-purchase reviews should not only be easy to complete, they should also be incentivized for different levels of input.

Handful Bras makes the most of recent purchases by sending out review requests that (1) are dripping with their brand’s engaging voice, (2) include a direct link with picture to the ordered product, and (3) a little something extra: “if you include a photo, we’ll send you a code for $5 off your next order.”

That $5 coupon has led to a flood of user-generated content (namely, pictures) Handful now features on their product pages. On top of that, it gives customers an immediate reason to buy again:

Love or Loss?

We all love the return visitor and return customer. The question is: Do they love you?

Unless you get to know them, the answer will always be no. When someone walks into their local coffee shop, they don’t want to be greeted by a steel hand, blank stare, and same old pitch. In the real world, people want to be recognized. To be appreciated. To be treated like the individual they are.

Online, everybody wants the exact same thing. Personalization is how you give it to them.