Personalization in eCommerce: Where to focus?

Andrzej Marczewski, a gamification thought leader that I follow on Twitter, recently linked to a blog post he wrote about digital rewards and feedback. At the same time, I was writing my own post on personalization in eCommerce, and noticed that Andrzej’s post touched on several overlapping topics.

If you recall, I wrote a couple of posts recently where I discussed several areas where eCommerce user experience designers can learn from video game designers (part one / part two). After reading Andrzej’s gamification article, I was even further convinced that personalization and gamification have a lot in common. Marczewski implores that rewards and feedback must always be relevant, meaningful, and in-time. And below is how I think online retailers should look at the same criteria in light of personalization:


If a user experience isn’t relevant to a particular user, then it’s not really personalized, is it?  For example, I was recently browsing a photography site looking for a CF card, which typically costs about $80. Upon making my selection, I was then presented with an accessory recommendation…for a $3000 camera. Well, sure. I’m already spending 80 dollars, so what’s an extra 3000, right? Wait, what? Maybe it would make sense if the offer were presented the other way around. But an expensive camera as an accessory for a CF card? That might be the most irrelevant offer I have received. Ever.


Over the past few years, advances in technology have made it possible for companies to gather specialized customer data that they can then use to make quick and accurate recommendations. In fact, it’s not only possible…it’s vital. But relevant recommendations are just a part of the battle. They also must be presented at the right time. Today, many online retails look at data from a past-tense perspective. But with all the data they have about their customers, it would be nice to see them shake the “past-tense analysis” and really take advantage of new technologies to offer customers what they need. Now.  An online retailer that can present a customer with options in real time, while they’re on the site, will always have an edge over those who wait to analyze data and then follow-up after the fact.


In the gamification sense, Andrzej mentions that always offering rewards, or simply rewarding for “everything” can hurt the experience. The offer must be meaningful and rare in order to truly make an impact. The same goes for online retail.

For example, if a customer abandons an item in their cart, a quick email offering a discount might make them return and complete the checkout process. But if you do this every time someone abandons, the experience loses luster…and the retailer loses profits.

Another #fail I’ve seen on many retail sites is blanketing the page with every deal of the day. True, this may work for some sites. But for most brands, all it is going to do is clutter the site and cheapen the experience.  Somewhere embedded in all that cruft, the customer may actually find what they’re looking for — and that is what’s critical. Making the experience about what you want to sell instead of what the customer wants to buy is not going to convey an appropriate meaning to most consumers.

Andrzej’s blog post is here. And a big “thank you” to him for allowing me to reference and reframe his post to align with what I believe are critical practices for eCommerce personalization.


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