Picture a typical shopping journey for a brick & mortar store:
A customer is walking in the Summer heat. She passes a display of mannequins with cooling linen clothes and decides to check out the store. Upon entering, an assistant greets her and guides her to the right sections. The assistant also suggests additional items that fit her style and even finds them in the right size. Thirty minutes later, she walks out with a great new outfit.
Brick & mortar stores employ a variety of strategies to recommend products to customers, such as displaying hot-selling items at the store-front, suggesting items based on someone’s shopping history, or placing certain items closer to each other.
These tweaks not only increase the average basket size, they transform the entire shopping experience for customers.
For e-commerce websites the opportunities are endless - so what is the optimal strategy to grow your business?
The challenge for e-commerce
For digital stores, designing a good shopping experience is even more critical.
Not only do e-commerce websites present a completely different medium for shopping, online customers also tend to be unforgiving. It’s common for customers to abandon a shop because a webpage looks messy, or the images are blurry, or they can’t find what they want with the search bar. Hence, improving the online shopping experience, with the right technologies and the right strategies, is key to customer retention and conversion.
Each component of a website must be designed with the shopping experience in mind. For now, let’s focus on an important part of your online store: recommendation widgets.
As with every website component, there are many different types of recommendations to consider and many different ways to style them. And it’s hard to identify the best solution because the strategy you use depends on changing business circumstances.
We’re here to help. In this article, we’ll be improving our understanding of recommendations and covering some strategies for using them.
The purpose of recommendations
At the heart of it, recommendations are a way to present products that a shopper is not looking for, but is likely to buy. Recommendation widgets are commonly employed by e-commerce websites. For example, when you’re shopping on Amazon and you see a widget that says “Customers who viewed this item also viewed” followed by various products — that’s a recommendation widget.
To break it down even further, recommendations work by accomplishing one of three things:
Why are recommendations so important?
Let’s go back to a time when humans were hunters and gatherers, a time when choosing the right products wasn’t simply a matter of fashion or comfort, but of life and death.
Picture a young homo sapien who finds a berry bush. The fruits are brightly coloured and plump, but a homo sapien who reached for the fruit without a second thought wouldn’t survive for long: the berries might be poisonous!
So what does the homo sapien do? He relies on the testimonies of tribe members who have tried the fruit. Maybe they tell him that it is safe to eat, or maybe he sees other tribe members eating them. This gives him the confidence, and desire, to try the berries. If they turn out to be sweet and juicy, he’ll return for more.
These are the underlying roots of recommendations and branding.
We try new products (an unknown berry) based on the recommendations of friends and family (the suggestions of tribe members). When we trust the brand of a product (the shape and colour of the berries) to satisfy our needs (whether the berries are safe to eat), we become loyal to the brand.
It’s been ingrained into our psyche since primitive times to rely on recommendations. Those who lacked this instinct didn’t survive.
How should I employ recommendations on my e-commerce website?
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Knowing that something needs to be done is easy, knowing what to do is hard. There are many different strategies for leveraging recommendations on your e-commerce website, and the strategy to use depends on your business circumstances — who are your customers, what are your products, what’s happening around you.
Navigating the possible strategies can be dizzying, that’s why we’ve prepared a flowchart to help you pinpoint the appropriate kind of recommendations for your business needs.
Let’s take a closer look at two recommendation strategies on this flowchart: ‘#1 Hot Sellers’ and ‘#8 Frequently Purchased Together’.
Leverage purchasing trends with ‘Hot Sellers’
Consumer purchases don’t happen in a void, there’s usually an external context to them.
Sometimes customers buy new clothes to replace worn out ones, or warmer and lighter clothes when the seasons change. Sometimes there’s a sports event and customers want to display their support for their favourite teams, or maybe the holidays are here and festive products become popular.
There are two ways to perceive this. It could be a source of frustration for retailers to keep up with changing trends, but it could also be a source of endless opportunities. If you’re always pushing out new products or you have a versatile product line that ties well with current events and seasons, then each changing trend presents a fresh opportunity to sell different products to your customers.
‘Hot Sellers’ is a recommendation strategy that works on this principle by presenting trending items to your shoppers. Utilizing an intelligent recommendation system enables these recommendations to be rapidly updated based on real-time shopping trends, so that they remain relevant every day and every hour.
Sell more complementing items with ‘Frequently Purchased Together’
‘Frequently Purchased Together’ is a great strategy to consider when you have products with good synergy.
Think of luggage bags with neck pillows, salsa with tortilla chips, swimming suits with flip flops. Shoppers looking at certain products are likely to buy other related products.
If you have products that fit this pattern, this is an opportunity to let shoppers know that they can tick off more items on their shopping list while they’re here.
And of course, there are endless combinations between products, and some work better than others. It’s best to use an intelligent recommendation system that can study purchasing patterns and identify the products with the best synergy for you.
Where to go from here
These are examples of strategies that, implemented appropriately and with the right technologies, can greatly improve the shopping experience of your online stores.
If you haven’t been using recommendations, or you’re not sure how to proceed, the best thing to do is to start then iteratively improve from there.
Ultimately, there are endless opportunities to use recommendations, and endless ways to combine and style strategies. E-commerce is an evolving industry. To thrive in this environment, you must use the strategies that fit your current needs, and be flexible enough to adapt your strategies to ever-changing business circumstances.
Want to Learn More?
If you’re interested in learning more about different recommendation strategies and figure out which is the right one for you, please reach out to email@example.com