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The Host in the Machine

AI makes personalizing product content possible, but human empathy makes the sale.

You’ve seen that email, the one that starts “Hi [your name],” and ends with a sales pitch. That, of course, is a kind of personalization on the part of the retailer. But did it really make you decide to purchase? Or did it just go straight to the trash folder?

We bet you’ve also had an experience like this: You walk into a store, and everything just clicks. Whether it’s your first visit or a monthly drop-in doesn’t matter — you feel the ease. The salesperson understands you. Listening to you while also observing the things you’re not saying (because a good salesperson can also be a therapist, as we all know). They give you space and also help to guide you, often intuiting what you want or need before you do yourself. 

You’ve also probably had the opposite experience. No attention, or no space. Which probably means no sale for them. 

AI is helping brands make shopping online more like that easy in-store experience, and personalization is the way in. For shoppers, personalization promises a seamless, engaging experience from browse to buy, and the feeling that the brand really gets them. For retailers, it’s not just a route to conversions — it’s a way to build shoppers’ trust, solve their problems and forge relationships that keep customers for life.

The numbers tell a story: The Relevancy Group found that retailers using advanced personalization techniques generated 17% more revenue and realized ROI of $20 or more for every dollar invested. McKinsey says 71 percent of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions — and 76 percent will switch to another brand if they don’t like their experience. Aidaptive, a partner of Thread’s in exploring how to harness machine learning for retail, has documented the following impacts of personalization: an 11.8 percent increase in conversion rates, an 11.5 percent increase in overall revenue and a 64.1 percent increase in click-throughs.

What Customers Want

We know that online shoppers are looking for a few things:

  • Relevance. Content, products and offers tailored to their specific needs and interests
  • Connection. The ability to connect with brands on their terms, whenever and wherever they want
  • Info, info, info. Answers to their questions in real time
  • Ease. A smooth journey from search to purchase because the brand understood and anticipated their needs

Your brand will have to build a few things on the back end to deliver all that. (Which, by the way, we can help you navigate.) Things like: the ability to generate dynamic content so that the consumer is shown what’s most relevant to them and their needs. Like review and rating systems to collect and display user-generated content. Like personalized video and images. Like product recommendations based on products viewed or purchased. A well-oiled personalization system can automatically curate and display the description that fits each visitor’s session. Then the system keeps learning from and adjusting to customer preferences on autopilot.

For the moment, let’s wave our hands and grant the technical capacity to do these things. Shopify says: “Data analysis will help you uncover what your customer cares most about, then it’s your job to serve them the content, products and offers in line with their desires.”

The part of personalization that doesn’t always get talked about is the content. From the email that says Hey there and reminds you it’s time to restock your supplements to the product description built just for shopper X (or shopper A, B or C) — you’re gonna need words.

Find your way forward

The content map for every brand is going to look a little bit different.

Think about personalized ads (with varied headlines and calls to action) and banners, personalized landing page copy and even different product descriptions for different customers, depending on their interests, their past purchases, even the current weather where they live. The point isn’t to have a different copy set for every shopper — it’s to make each interaction as relevant to each shopper as possible. 

Personalization done right is a powerful blend of data science and human empathy. AI and machine learning can analyze vast amounts of data to identify customer preferences and suggest relevant products and offers.

But data alone doesn’t build relationships, and a relationship with you is what your most loyal shoppers want. Content with sensory details and an understanding of how the product can be used or styled — a human touch — ensures that personalized content feels genuine and creates that in-store-experience feeling.

  • Don’t talk at your shoppers — use your site’s data as an empathy generator to understand their needs, solve their problems and have an ongoing conversation with them. Craft helpful content that answers their questions even before they ask them. Be consistent in your brand voice no matter where shoppers encounter you.
  • Ecom personalization is a big investment. It takes time and care. Start with a vision of what’s possible. Identify your brand strengths and consider how to build on them. Draw a map for ramping up to content at scale, where your interactions with customers are relevant to them every time.
  • You don’t need personalized content for every single consumer — plenty of shoppers will buy once and bounce, and that’s fine. First focus on the customers you know already love your brand. If most of your business comes from 20% of your customers, start with those customers. Keep in mind, too, that personalization isn’t something that everyone wants. Every brand needs to honor data privacy rules and offer opt-in/opt-out routes.

Personalization done right — with empathy for the customer experience — is a feedback loop that’s good for shoppers and sellers. It gives shoppers an experience that’s relevant to them. It shows you understand and value them. For brands, it’s a way build customer relationships that last.

Is your brand ready to deliver a personalized shopping experience? The first step is transitioning to an AI-assisted product copy solution. Thread can help, learn more here or get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Drumroll, please: Thread is now a Certified B Corp! We 🎉 are 🎉 stoked