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Don’t Overcomplicate Your Personalization Strategy

Learn how to make sure that the personalization strategy will work for your business and build no resentment among your prospects and returned customers.

Personalization seems to be one of the buzzwords that take over the eCommerce scene from time to time. There are many personalization tips out there, ranging from simple advice that can be manually implemented within your everyday marketing to complex strategies that involve advanced technologies like machine learning. With all of this overwhelmingly positive coverage of how online businesses should approach personalization, it’s easy to overlook the fact that it doesn’t always work.

Have you ever visited an online store and started being bombarded with ads for items you reviewed on that site? Well, that’s personalized remarketing, and as we all can testify - it doesn’t always work. In fact, it’s more likely to be annoying.

Same goes for other personalization tactics. Not all people like them. Not all people like the invasion of privacy associated with them. And some are already building immunity, just like with other conventional advertising techniques these days. Like, for example, with banner ads, when was the last time you clicked one?

personalization_infographic_croppedData source: Part of an infographic from SAP Hybris

That’s why if you want your web personalization strategy to work, it’s important to maintain a reasonable balance between what you want from visitors and what they want from the online experience. In this article, we’ll share some tips on how to make sure that your personalization strategy is not overly complicated and that your expectations of it align with how personalization works.

Don’t Get Carried Away

When you’re starting out with your personalization strategy, it’s easy to get carried away. You may find yourself in a situation where you’re building marketing activities around data that’s not going to work for personalization. Or you may end up digging too deep into people’s profiles and base your strategy on a piece of information that’s too private, like specific billing details.

Some businesses end up trying to actively acquire unique information through surveys, forms, and questionnaires that people don’t have the time for or don’t always feel the need to fill out truthfully. In fact, 65% of users wouldn’t submit a form asking for too much private information.

So a good way to start would be to go for the first-time visitors that you don’t have that much information about, by default. You know nothing about them except for maybe their IP address, device type and some other very basic attributes. Because of data scarcity, this lack of information limits available marketing activities that you can perform.

Know When to Leave People Alone

Just like with the personalized remarketing mentioned above, your other personalization tactics don’t need to be too intrusive. If you’re working with a third party to retarget people or use any other outside help, you have to fine-tune your approach to advertising.

Common traits of badly conducted personalization

Experiment with the duration of campaigns. People don’t like to be followed by ads everywhere they go and constantly reminded about what they’ve searched for a week ago. That is especially true if you’re selling products that are very personal.

Privacy Matters

If you’re automating these processes to the max, you may end up in a situation where a user leaving your site starts getting ads for the product that they searched for in a matter of hours or even minutes after they left the site. This is ‘creepy marketing’ in its worst form. People are getting fed up with it. So every time you’re figuring the right angle for a particular personalization tactic, ask yourself a simple question - ‘Would I be OK with an ad like this, or would I get annoyed?’ This overreach on the side of brands has been reported for a while, like the infamous case, when Target learned about a girl’s pregnancy before her dad did.

Online privacy statsData source: Pew Research Center

All of the above means that if you want to protect your business reputation, then protecting the privacy of your customers must become one of the pillars of your personalization. Overstepping your boundaries is not acceptable since even if your visitors sign up for deals or promotions that you use to collect their information, it’s not going to change their mind after they get a particularly personalized message. Consent doesn’t imply satisfaction, and so even if your Terms & Conditions protect you, there’s nothing you can do if a person stops buying from you, disgruntled by your treatment of their personal information.

There are a couple of things that you may want to include in your personalization strategy as not to seem invasive.

  • If you’re not doing ABM marketing or doing a one-on-one marketing pitch, it’s better to stay away from personalization tactics that make it look like you know the customer personally. It's one thing is to know that they’re having lunch but it's another thing to know exactly what they had for lunch and at what time.
  • Don’t include personal information that hints at the depth of your knowledge about the customer. Again, ask yourself whether it would creep you out if someone knew this information about you and used it to try to sell you something. Treat people like you would like to be treated.

Limit Blanket Assumptions

If you’re not using a third-party tool to personalize shopping for your visitors, then the simplest approach would be to create specific rules for specific activities on the website and execute on them. The easiest example is ‘if the visitor viewed items X and Y - recommend item Z.’

The problem with this approach is that the assumptions that you’re making about the user are very broad due to the limited scope of data involved. A more complex approach to personalization like recommendations might require heavy-duty coding and techniques such as machine learning. That’s why building a rule-based personalization solution is possible, but you have to make sure the rules are straightforward and linear.

Don’t Commit to a Single Personalization Solution

If you decide to opt in for a third-party personalization solution, it’s important to realize that many of them are essentially ‘black boxes,’ which means that you don’t even get to see the logic that drives the solution. That’s why you can’t be sure that the results that you’re getting from it, if any, are optimal.

You need to shop around. Test out various solutions, their capabilities and limitations. Sure, it may be cumbersome to integrate different technologies one after another. However, if you’re interested in getting the most out of your personalization strategy, it’s logical to have an optimal solution in place to drive it.

Start with UX and UI

You have to remember that a web personalization strategy is not a band-aid that you use to patch a hole in your dwindling customer base. Personalization is something that you use when you have a stable business and want to push it a little further. For personalization to work, you need to lay the groundwork. No matter how much you personalize a visitor’s experience, if you have a screwed-up order page or a very unfriendly UI, then none of it is going to work.

The importance of UXData sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

So before you set off implementing a personalization strategy, make sure that you have other marketing basics in place. It’s better to spend time on a redesign or a more flexible data management system than on a personalization strategy that you’re going to slap on top of a poorly functioning website.


Don’t expect personalization to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of marketing for your eCommerce business. You have to be careful about the information that you collect and use for personalization and the way that you incorporate your knowledge about the customers into your personalization tactics.

If you find yourself in a situation where you want to build out a personalization strategy because your business is in a slump, then it’s not for you. Personalization might reignite a customer’s interest in your products, but it will do nothing about the fact that the products aren’t quite good, your delivery might be bad, or that your site is hardly usable. Make sure that you’ve got these aspects of customer experience down before committing to personalization. It serves as an additional tool for your business. It’s not a multitool, it’s more of a hex key, so treat it accordingly.

If you have particular personalization requirements or don't feel like third-party solutions are working for you - feel free to reach out to usThe Iflexion eCommerce development team can help you with your custom personalization requirements.

What kind of failures have you experienced with personalizing your customers’ experience? What advice would you add to this list? Share your thoughts and ideas below!

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