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How Online Personalization Can Create Compelling Customer Experiences and Build a Better Business

Personalization extends to much more than just welcoming back a returning customer or showing recommendations based on their previous purchases. It’s about using what data you have to create a compelling experience that encourages the customer to take action and come back again.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

The problem is, many marketers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data collected, much less knowing what to do with it. According to this infographic from Monetate, 94% of marketers know how valuable personalization is, but when data gets real, 95% of them seem to be stuck in analysis paralysis:

the big data problem

The issue with big data: too much, too slow, too complicated

On the other end of the spectrum, you have companies who purposefully choose not to squeeze every last drop of information out from their customers – but rather monitor their shopping behaviors and react accordingly.

1. How Do You Like Your Coffee?

Caribou Coffee is a great example of this. By shopping for coffee online, it remembers your preferences and displays targeted flavors and varieties according to your search:

caribou coffee

Personalization helps Caribou remember exactly how you like your coffee

Notice how it’s not demanding my name, email address, zip code or first-born child – but rather using what it has to make a concentrated (caffeinated?) effort toward showing me something I’d like.

2. Personalization Wrapped in an App

And personalization isn’t just for websites – it has made an impact on apps too. Wine-lover app Delectable lets you photograph, tag and save the wines you love, while recommending related ones based on your tastes and ratings. It also incorporates feedback and reviews from the wine community to help further socially solidify your smart choice – integrating a three-pronged strategy of social, share and review into a single app.

By bridging the gap between wines, wine lovers, wine makers and the general community, Delectable has made itself a must-have.

wine app

Delectable builds a custom “wine profile” of users and makes recommendations based on favorites

And it’s not just beverage companies that can zero-in on customer details to create a more welcoming experience. Virtually any company can leverage some form of real-life segmenting to create more appealing offers that customers find relevant and engaging.

In fact, poorly targeted personalization can do more than just irritate visitors, according to a study by Janrain/Harris Interactive:

Consumer Attitudes Irrelevant Website Content July 2013

Customers have strong attitudes and preferences for the ads and promotions they see

Notice that over half of consumers indicated that they don’t mind revealing personal information, so long as it’s beneficial to them and used responsibly by the company. Sadly, most company privacy policies are so entrenched in traditional broadcast marketing that it’s no wonder customers are leery to divulge their data.

3. Combine Your Personalization Efforts for Greater Impact

Of course, you don’t need every single shred of information about a visitor to be able to craft a compelling, conversion-boosting offer for them. Just look at this example of a hiking boot store leveraging retargeting and previous site searches to build a quick real-time profile:

An example of personalization combined with retargeting and flash sales

An example of personalization combined with retargeting and flash sales

4. Personalizing Content via Social Media

Social media is largely an untapped source of instant, relevant information about your customers. UX Matters has a fantastic article on the different methods that can be used to customize content so that users are more likely to take action. From social gifting to product sharing, social marketing done right has the potential to bring friends

By cross referencing friends’ interests, likes and dislikes, it’s possible that you can end up with strong recommendations like this:


5. Personalization Profiles

Within the last month, Netflix rolled out their personalization profile, which eliminates the hassle of sharing one account across a multi-person household. This allows each member of the family to create and customize the recommendations that come to them, greatly increasing the chance that they’ll find something they like to watch without sifting through 500+ titles in the queue.

netflix profiles

Netflix new personalization profiles lets families create individual profiles for each person so that recommendations are better tailored to them.

As you can see, personalization isn’t just about connection – it’s also about making things convenient and friendly.

eCommerce and SaaS (software as a service) can also benefit from integrating personalization – even on a budget. Uncommon Goods, a New York boutique specializing in unique gifts that span a variety of categories including home décor, garden, electronics and more. They were looking for a way to integrate smart up-sell and cross-sell options across their entire inventory.

With this in mind, how do you personalize recommendations that span such an eclectic range of goods? They chose Baynote, a personalization engine that went beyond correlating purchases and monitored user browsing behavior to be able to make intelligent recommendations that increased conversions and sales.

recommending geekery

UncommonGoods and Baynote’s recommendation engine in action, recommending geekery, gadgets and graphics for yours truly!

How You Can Start Taking Advantage of Personalization

Fortunately, in this era of on-demand, customized everything, there’s no shortage of online tools, services and products available to make your personalization efforts more rewarding for both your bottom line, and for your customers. For instance:

  • WP Greetbox will greet customers based on where they came from. A wide variety of sites and social networks are supported, and you can also create and insert your own.
  • 15 Personalization Tools – Ranging from CMSes that incorporate personalization, to e-commerce, to SaaS (Software as a Service). One of the tools profiled even integrates with Google Analytics, which can help smaller businesses save money by using the tools they’re already used to.
  • Visitor.js – Personalize pages on-the-fly based on a wide variety of collectible information. Plans start at $9.95/month.
  • Barilliance lets ecommerce stores take advantage of cart abandonment, recommendations, behavioral targeting and email updates for customers. Prices range from $250-$500/month or more depending on the depth of services and number of page views per month.
  • LoopIt – Lets you include an “Ask Your Friends” button on your product website so that shoppers can get their friends’ opinions on a variety of products.

What’s Your Opinion on Personalization?

Have you used personalization to increase your conversion rates? Do you appreciate it as a shopper or feel like it’s an invasion of your online privacy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!

  1. Owen McGab Enaohwo Sep 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Great article Sherice! Has anyone tried using Evergage? They seem to be able to provide personalized lifecycle message to users within ones website, email, and within web apps based on what stage in the funnel the user is in.

    I’d like to know your thoughts

    • Hi Owen,

      Personally I haven’t used it, but I’m certainly considering it given that they really do seem to level the playing field as far as building an in house personalization/email/cart abandonment notification system vs. using a third party service. I’ve heard good things about them!

      • Rob Carpenter Sep 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm

        Great article Sherice! I would love to chat more about your thoughts on web personalization. I’ve read a couple pieces from you now on the topic..

        Thanks for bringing Evergage up Owen!

        The big difference between us (Evergage) and the other personalization tools listed is that Evergage is really the only tool of the bunch that focuses on driving real-time response to real-time user behavior, also taking into consideration where in the lifecycle a user is. Whereas most other tools really focus in on ecommerce, or only work on non-secure web pages at the top of the funnel. Evergage works at the beginning to help boost website conversion rates of anonymous visitors, to converting free trial users, to onboarding to new customers, to keeping entire accounts engaged and preventing churn, etc.

        Rob Carpenter

  2. Great article :) I think about start small internet shop, so I try to use Your advice :)

  3. Angie Johnston Sep 20, 2013 at 4:49 am

    I kind-of feel like it’s an invasion of privacy. I can understand why some companies would want to do it, but I’m even starting to find it creepy that I’m seeing ads related to research I’ve done for my clients. Every time I get online, I’m served up with “retire in arizona” ads by Realtors(R) because that was something I recently searched extensively (not for me! ha!).

    I just don’t like the boundary-overstepping that’s so common now. I don’t want to be a weirdo creeper, and I’d rather take the chance on not being personal enough than to freak them out, even subconsciously.

    • Hi Angie,

      I do copywriting too, so the ads I see run the gamut from universities to pet food to GPS systems. I just make sure to clear cookies periodically to get all that stuff out of my browser and start over fresh.

  4. I think it’s like coin with two sides. You either want to be anonymous and same time you want other to read yuor minds. Seeing related ads according to your likes. Most of the time people don’t know what they really want.

  5. Great article.

    I totally agree with the example of the new Netflix user profiles. It easily shows how personalization can vastly improve both user experience and the quality of service.

    The concept is great, but haven’t done much with it yet. This is a good reminder though, I’ll have to set some time aside to brainstorm and research if there’s any potential for some of my current projects.

  6. This is a great post about the huge impact that personalization on the web has on consumers. It is interesting how it can be useful for both personal use and when thinking of others when using social gifting platforms.

  7. I am fine with remarketing. But i Don’t download mobile apps which asks permission to access My contacts, manage them or send some communication On My behalf. Similarly i dont like to connect one online account to another (except an email account) e.g. Accessing pinterest thru fb account etc. Reason for the above said : i am scared.

  8. Hi Sherice. Great piece. I have recently blogged on the same topic with a lot of overlapping themes. Would love to hear your views as well.

  9. Angeline Marie May 08, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for this article…it has some really helpful information.

    I think personalization is great, but when you can’t necessarily customize your marketing messages…there are other ways to make your prospects feel special.

    People like to feel as though you are speaking to them personally vs. talking to a group. I try always to use the words, “you”, “your”, “you’re” to make a prospect feel as though I am only speaking to him or her.

    • Angeline, great point. It’s important to customize every campaign to your users so they feel like they are part of the process :)

  10. These days technology quickly increases. There are lots of solutions for online store. You can create it yourself and pay organizations for just hosting.

  11. Hi Sherice, appreciate the article, it clearly depicts the psychology behind consumer behavior. If it is kept simple and addresses specific customer requirements it will be a game changer for any organization.
    Leveraging BI & Analytics a simple UI for the Business Analyst, a 360 view for Sales Executives and an App fir the customer especially on mobile devices that shows a personalized profile view for a shopper and remembers sizes, brand preferences and price ranges without a customer constantly imputing a preference, of as it relates to online shopping.
    That being said, what would you recommend for BI, an internal 360 view and an App for a personalized retail on line experience?

  12. Excellent article Sherice! Really liked steps 3 and 4 for bringing personalization to your site and social efforts. You might be interested to also check out the new innovations Triblio ( has been working on in content personalization. Looking forward to more posts on this topic!


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