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Ecommerce | Marketing

Stop Buying Customers; Get Personal Instead

image: Stop buying customers graphic, image of a person in a stop sign
Most online shoppers grow frustrated with websites that serve up irrelevant pages. Personalised online merchandising eliminates that frustration

Growing up, I knew a kid named Larry. He struggled to develop real relationships with people, always droning on and on about what he liked and what he did, rarely asking for anyone else's opinion.


Fortunately, Larry's family was loaded. As a kid, Larry gave people toys they liked whenever they came to his house to play. That evolved into tickets to football games as he got older. His frat bothers loved him; he underwrote the best house parties on campus.


Yeah, Larry bought friends.


Brands do it too.


Buying customers—the business version of friends—costs money and margin. Reading stories that "emails with heavy [emphasis mine] discounts influence purchase decisions" is not a positive trend, folks. This is not something you want to do... unless you're desperate. Discounting reinforces consumer shopping habits that reduce revenue and slam margins. If that bothers you, thinking about how this affects lifetime customer value should terrify you.


An executive at one major brand admitted to me that only 8% of its customers buy its products at full price at the company's flagship stores. Most buy in outlet malls or have been conditioned to wait for sales.


This is not a sustainable business model. I'll say it differently: Building lasting relationships is the key to long-term happiness. And how do you do that? Not by regularly offering deep discounts and other forms of bribery. When you do that, you're encouraging customer loyalty to the lowest available pricing, not to your brand.


Instead, make the consumer the priority.


People love social media because they get to be the star. Selfies prove this point. Most brands, however, make their products the star. Nobody likes to hear about someone else all day. Know who your audience is, what they're shopping for, what they and their friends like, and use that data to make each visitor to your store, online or offline, the star.


If a customer bought dog supplies from your pet store, send a thank-you email that features canine-related content, rather than cat images and products, and invite him to post a picture of his dog on your Instagram feed.


Likewise, if a customer regularly browses plus-size apparel on your website, serve her plus-size products on your home page when she returns. The software exists to let you create personalised, dynamic web pages—a good thing, given that online technology firm Janrain found that 74% of online shoppers grow frustrated with a website when it serves them content that does not speak to their interests.


Personalised online merchandising enables you to make what each customer wants central to his shopping experience the moment he arrives at your website. If you know she like culottes, emphasise the damn culottes. And no, that doesn't mean give her 10% off. That means make them central to her experience when she arrives. She shouldn't have to hunt for them. Multiple landing pages boost sales; think of personal merchandising as a series of tailored landing pages throughout the customer's journey.


Long story short: Use all the technology and data at your disposal to treat consumers as people—which, after all, they are. They'll appreciate your making the shopping experience easier, and they'll feel valued that you take into account their personal preferences. In turn, they'll value you and remain loyal to you.


Oh, if you're wondering about Larry: He married a girl way out of his league. She divorced him. When she left, most of their friends remained loyal to her.


author: Charles Benaiah

Charles Benaiah

Charles Benaiah is the founder of watzan, a provider of digital merchandising and content curation solutions.



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