For a Great E-Commerce Experience, Make It Personal
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Data-collection and analytics technology has become increasingly more sophisticated in recent years, giving businesses access to a wealth of valuable information about their customers' individual shopping habits, preferences and interests. This information can be especially useful in the e-commerce space, where consumers have come to expect a highly customized experience.

"Each [customer] is different and, therefore, needs to be catered to in a specific fashion," said Jack Lowinger, founder and CEO of collaborative shopping platform Cartonomy. "The first step to a successful transaction is paying close attention to the shopper, and then figuring out what products he or she needs. Many e-commerce sites do the opposite, where they focus on the product line over the customer and, as a result, are unable to build a loyal customer base."

Giving customers what they want and personalizing the shopping experience begins with intelligently using data to drive your relationships with customers. [3 Big Challenges for Small E-Commerce Retailers (and How to Overcome Them)]

"The promise of the Internet is that you can pull data and provide a better user experience," said David Steinberg, CEO and co-founder of marketing solutions provider Zeta Interactive. "Technology is a great equalizer. As a small business, you can do more than you ever could before."

Steinberg advised using the data you have to mimic the retail experience online for your customers. In a retail setting, shoppers can guide themselves through the store, ask for help, and receive personalized recommendations and advice from a staff member. An e-commerce business can use data on what products customers searched for, purchased and even talked about on social media to figure out what they might like to buy in its online store.

Data-driven recommendations can also be generated through information on consumers who fit a similar demographic or have a comparable purchase history.

"Retailers have begun to incorporate a 'guided discovery' process that targets specific items for a consumer based on user suggestions that help narrow down the purchase decision," Lowinger told Business News Daily. "The key is to help the consumer find more of what they need with less time spent searching or browsing through categories."

Customers expect the same level of personalized service outside of your e-commerce website, in your external branding and marketing efforts. This means ensuring that your promotional emails are tailored to fit your distinct customer groups.

"There are so many sites competing for our time, and we can't possibly read everything in our inbox," said Shannon Van Buskirk, vice chair and co-founder of GovX, an e-commerce site open exclusively to military and government personnel and their spouses. "Sending one email blast to everyone isn't doing the best job. GovX's emails are hand-designed around a certain theme or need of the audience. Members like to see what other members are using or looking at."

Lowinger noted that creating an online community around your brand can help your customers connect with your company and their fellow shoppers, thereby encouraging customer loyalty.

"The key factor to launching a successful social e-commerce experience is allowing consumers to connect with an active and targeted community centered around common interests and needs," he said.

"Not a lot of e-commerce companies think about building a community where you come in and read about incredible people with stories," Van Buskirk added. "[Customers are] buying for the full experience — just selling products is boring. Create something that's community and e-commerce all in one."

Originally published on Business News Daily.