The owner of the local Indian restaurant knows my name. And my order. He throws in a couple of samosas “just this once” (this is the third time). What makes me a loyal customer—besides the amazing food—is this personalized experience.
Brick-and-mortar retailers have long understood the value of a personal touch. And they can offer the tactile extras online stores can’t: taste, touch, smell, and a sales associate who says “Welcome back.”
As an ecommerce store owner, you might not know your customers’ faces, but you have the ability to get to know them. Enter personalized online shopping. Customized experiences benefit your brand by increasing conversion using the data your customers want to share so you can give them the experiences they ask for.
How do you tap into this valuable tool? Let’s get personal!
What is a personalized online shopping experience?
Personalized online shopping experiences refer to ways customers interact with your brand that’s unique to their profile or preferences. This might be an AI-powered recommendation tool that learns customer behavior. Or it could be a self-directed returns portal that provides free shipping labels and real-time tracking info. From first visit to post-checkout, you have the opportunity to personalize every step of the customer journey.
Below, we’ll walk you through ecommerce personalization tools, real examples of brands that use them, and why they’re worth your investment.
⚡Plus, read to the end to take our quiz and discover the best tools for your store based on your business goals and unique challenges.
How personalization benefits your online store
As consumer habits evolved over the pandemic, so too did brand strategies. Many businesses that lost the face-to-face connection doubled down on personalized online shopping experiences. And now customers have come to demand it.
One study found that 71% of consumers surveyed expect to receive a degree of personalization. And, the same source saw that brands that do it well see 40% more revenue from personalization than those that don’t.
Aside from improving customer experience, here’s how a personalization strategy can benefit your brand:
- Create consistency across channels. In recent years, many retailers diverted focus to their ecommerce sites, or even launched a website for the first time. You can recreate the in-person magic with a few simple tools—and give customers the experience they come to expect.
- Inform future business decisions. The information you collect through personalization tools can inform business decisions, including increasing sales through product recommendations, future product development, or marketing campaigns.
- Reduce support debt. Integrated apps can make returns and exchanges painless for online shoppers and lessen the burden on your support team.
- Increase customer loyalty. Surprise, reward, and delight with little extras that show your customers you really know them—and keep them coming back.
- Optimize conversion rate. Personalization efforts can build purchase confidence, converting more browsers to buyers.
But beware: Consumers are over three times as likely to avoid brands that over-personalize versus those that don’t personalize at all. Asking for too much personal data may be off putting and feel like an invasion of privacy.
7 ways to delight customers with personalized online experiences
We spoke to several store owners that are using quizzes, concierge services, and other custom tools to achieve their business goals. Here are seven ways they’re creating unique shopping experiences for their customers:
- Build a virtual fitting room
- Offer personalized product recommendations
- Create customized experiences and products
- Upgrade to smart, relevant reviews
- Offer tailored product education
- Mirror the in-store experience online
- Close the personalization loop with returns
1. Build a virtual fitting room
Apparel brands have the biggest opportunity for personalized experiences. One report found that purchasing the wrong color, size, or fit is the top reason for returns (46%). Getting fit right is essential for your bottom line.
There’s no business more affected by fit issues than bra brands. Even in a retail setting, wrestling with clasps, getting measured by a stranger, and navigating style options can be daunting.
Yet, online intimates brands like Pepper have successfully removed this unpleasant step. A fit quiz has helped the brand offer more accurate size recommendations by asking about body shape and needs as well as measurements.
Size quizzes and custom size charts can be helpful for other business types too. Think: dog collars, bikes, menstrual cups, child car seats, baby-wearing products, skis, roof racks—basically anything sold in multiple sizes.
2. Offer personalized product recommendations
When Thinx introduced “period undies,” a sustainable alternative to tampons, the brand understood that customers would have questions. Thinx tackled the problem by combining education and product recommendations. In the process, it shattered its own conversion expectations.
Know Your Flow is Thinx’s quiz-style tool that collects customer information and outputs personalized recommendations. At launch, the conversion rate for quiz takers was five times higher than for those who did not start the quiz. And the tool had over a 90% completion rate. (With some tweaks to the tool, it’s now 99%.)
On mobile, the results are even more impressive. “There we see seven times or eight times what our typical mobile conversion rate would be,” says Brendan Hastings, vice president of engineering and digital product for Thinx. Based on the data collected, the tool also continues to evolve and inform changes to the website.
Menswear rental brand Taelor combines automation and human stylists to customize its online experience. This service ensures each customer receives a monthly box that matches their needs and personal style.
💡 Tip: Personalized recommendations can also be used as an upsell tool at the checkout stage or on product pages.
3. Create customized experiences and products
As with bras, swimwear fit can be tricky. KaiKini founder Taryn Rodighiero recognized this challenge when she launched her custom swim brand.
While a quiz would help her customers select the best size, she took the personalized experience one step further. Adding custom-made swimwear to her lineup meant she could tailor each piece to a customer’s unique specifications.
On the product page, customers can build suits by entering their measurements and preferences (say, more or less coverage). Taryn also offers a virtual concierge service where she personally walks customers through the process. “We make sure they are going to get a suit that fits right before we make it instead of after,” she says.
KaiKini’s concierge service allows Taryn to build personal connections while gathering direct feedback. “I love face-to-face meetings,” she says. “Every time I speak to [my customers], I come away learning something new.”
4. Upgrade to smart, relevant reviews
Beauty brands contend with high return rates, as customers often buy the wrong product or color. But many beauty brands have found ways to personalize the experience for each customer.
Beauty behemoth Sephora has used “smart reviews” to solve many of these challenges. Buyers can filter reviews to show only those from buyers with similar physical traits or beauty challenges. And users can even talk to each other via an on-site Conversations forum.
Thinx reviews similarly contain helpful information about each reviewer—height, period management habits, size purchased—letting buyers hone in on the feedback that is most relevant to them.
These helpful reviews not only build trust with a brand or product, they can also inspire a new customer to add a product to their shopping cart.
💡 Tip: Look for tools that allow you to ask customers for video feedback. Or those that can pull in customer testimonials from social media sites using a hashtag. Visual reviews give additional credibility to the brand and products.
5. Offer tailored product education
Hair care line Chāmpo is based around “Doshas,” an Ayurvedic diagnosis system that determines hair type and the suitable products for each. Education is therefore an essential part of Chāmpo’s customer journey.
Chāmpo’s hair quiz guides visitors through questions that determine one’s Dosha. The results then deliver only the information and products that are specific to that customer’s profile.
Not only does the quiz benefit the customer, it also helps Chāmpo stay in tune with their needs. “We continuously gather data, seek out feedback, and act upon it to keep our brand evolving,” says founder Kuldeep Knox.
6. Mirror the in-store experience online
The home décor and furniture industry has seen a wave of brands ditching the showroom in favor of a DTC approach. Many of these companies have replaced the in-store experience with augmented reality (AR) tools.
Brooklyn Bicycle Co. has taken another approach. Its NYC showroom is “transformational, not transactional,” says founder Ryan Zagata. The brand has invested in the space in a way that distances it from typical bike shops, where the experience can be intimidating. The coffee is hot, staffers are conversational, and the bikes are meant for test rides.
As Brooklyn Bicycle Co. grew its online DTC business, Ryan and his team wanted a way to bring their successful in-store experience to customers everywhere.
When Ryan introduced a simple quiz to the website, they saw a spike in online conversion rate. “It’s a low commitment way to get people into our funnel,” says Ryan. “And those who go through the bike finder app are much more likely to buy.” This is no anomaly: one report finds that interactive content converts at twice the rate of passive content.
Ryan says 21% of Brooklyn Bicycle Co. quiz takers enter their email addresses to become valuable subscribers. The brand has another chance to convert those leads by following up with an invitation to visit in person or book a concierge appointment.
The free concierge service is designed to answer questions and understand customer needs, replicating the friendly showroom experience. These touchpoints tell the team a lot about their potential customers. It’s valuable data that informs how they’ll invest their efforts.
Another way the brand is bridging IRL and online is through partnerships. Brooklyn Bicycle Co. partners with hundreds of physical bike shops across North America, where the products are shipped and assembled for online customers. “If something were to go wrong with the bike,” says Ryan, “you have a local place that you have a relationship with that can address any issues.”
7. Close the personalization loop with returns
Return rates continue to soar as more shoppers move to online shopping. Even with extra measures taken to match the right product to the right buyer, returns happen. Having a simple returns process is thus an important part of the personalized experience.
One study found a painless returns experience drives loyalty. Ninety-five percent of respondents said they would shop at an online retailer again after having a positive return experience.
Which personalization tools are right for your business?
We’ve shared a lot about the largely untapped potential of personalized shopping experiences. Put a few of these personalization ideas into practice to reap the rewards of building lasting relationships with your customers.
Unsure where to start? Many online tools have free trials, giving you time to play around before you commit. Take our quiz below to receive tailored recommendations for your business.
Feature illustration by Rose Wong
Personalized online shopping FAQ
What is a personalized online experience?
A personalized online experience is an interaction with a brand that feels unique and custom to the user. Whether offered through an automated tool or a human-led service, these experiences personalize the customer journey by customizing page elements or recommendations. They allow customers to engage more intimately with a brand to tailor the interaction to their preferences.
What are examples of personalization in online retail?
Examples for personalization in online retail may include tools that assess fit beyond a standard size chart, an AI chatbot that provides style recommendations based on customer information, or smart, relevant reviews that capture user data.
What is the purpose of personalization in ecommerce?
Personalization aims to increase purchasing confidence and conversion, upsell or cross sell to increase average order value, reduce returns, and develop strong brand-customer relationships to increase loyalty.