The Future Of Online Shopping, And How Retailers Can Get There

  • Written by  Ed Kennedy, Episerver

0aaEd Kennedy EpiserverPicture this: you find yourself in need of laundry detergent to finish packing before your big vacation. You ask Alexa to order some while figuring out where you left your passport and, 30 minutes later, a drone delivers your purchase right to your doorstep. No credit cards, no lines and no stress. Just you on your way to some well-deserved time off.

Most shopping experiences will look just like this in a few years’ time. Sophisticated technologies and major advancements in e-Commerce systems have ushered in a new era of online shopping. From multiple easy payment options to virtually real-time fulfillment, technology has enabled new customer capabilities around every turn (or click). Convenience is the norm, and these advancements are making their ways in-store, too. Amazon Go’s cashier-free store fronts and Walmart’s recent biometric investments are just the beginning in terms of how technologies will simplify and enrich your shopping experience.

But nothing will shape the future of commerce quite like improved personalized experiences.

Laundry detergent is just one of the millions of products that will soon be at your fingertips and in your shopping cart before you even knew you needed them. Already, retailers are bringing on advanced, intelligent personalization engines to better understand what, and who, you’re shopping for.

Three Musts For Future Online Shopping Success

The most advanced retailers have begun strategizing how to take information like previous purchase histories, web site browsing and other omnichannel shopping behaviors to offer people more personalized recommendations. This goes beyond rudimentary recommendations like “customers also viewed” to anticipating customers’ intentions and needs as they are developing.

Web sites now consider distinct browsing sessions to determine exactly what you’re looking for, and they can even differentiate when you’re shopping for yourself versus a friend, parent or sibling. To keep the momentum building around these enhanced digital experiences, retailers must next figure out how to:

  • See Beyond Demographics

The first step to personalizing online shopping recommendations is to pull in more information about consumers. This can include data like web browsing histories, social media profiles or insights sourced from a third-party partner, but it must always move past demographics.

Sweeping demographics are a good start to help categorize customers, but relying too heavily on them leads to misguided decision-making that fails to personalize at the individual level. When retailers focus too closely on basics like location or purchase history, they fail to factor in how nuanced and unique every shopper is and how each shopper’s need changes over time. For example, not all 30-year-old men are going to have similar purchasing needs or interests and each person’s preference is going to change over time. Rather, retailers can use product recommendation engines that aggregate all of the shoppers’ interactions and purchases into a single record to predict the products they are most likely to want.

Already, 38% of U.S. consumers believe companies should know about their purchase histories, and a quarter say the same of their personal interests. Both rank higher than demographics like name and age, and this gap will only grow larger as more shoppers begin to realize the benefits of granular personalization.

  • Personalize In Real Time

Retailers need to be able to personalize their messages and offers automatically, and at high scale. Customers may deviate from their typical searches when browsing or shopping online for friends and family, and successful retailers will use powerful machine learning algorithms to recognize and react when this is happening. This happens by comparing the user’s previous sessions on the site (for example when she visited the women’s category) and the user’s current session (when she visited the “gifts for him” section).

Delineating specific browsing sessions and intent ensures retailers don’t target customers with incorrect information or product recommendations that do not match the needs of their current life stage.

Over a one-year period, Episerver found nearly half of shoppers saw an ad for a product they would never purchase, and 31% reported a retailer made a misguided recommendation. Retailers hoping to build long-term loyalty should take extra care to avoid these scenarios, as the ability to pivot with consumers keeps relationships fresh and relevant.

  • Help Customers Find What They’re Looking For

This seems like a simple ask, but connecting consumers with what they need has taken on a more complex meaning in today’s extended e-Commerce journey. In fact, when visiting a brand’s web site for the first time, Episerver found 92% of shoppers are there to do something other than purchase.

The convenience factor of purchasing laundry detergent does not apply to every product and purchase experience. Many shoppers want and need to browse and search for the right product to suit their needs. This includes longer browsing and searching stages to compare prices, find deals, read customer testimonials and more. Helping shoppers find what they’re looking for is no longer limited to products. Making all information easy to locate is a relatively simple way for retailers to delight their target audiences. Again, this information should also be personalized in real time. For example, if a shopper is searching for store hours, the results should be tailored to her specific location and time zone.

Technologies for site browse and site search have improved dramatically in recent years to automatically personalize the search results to each individual shopper based on their unique behavior. This includes re-ranking search results for a specific keyword to better suit each shopper’s predicted intent.

Retailers should take comfort knowing that they’re not alone when it comes to executing and maintaining these endeavors. Technology providers can help retailers learn more about their customers and give them insights into real-world strategies and next steps for marketers.

In an e-Commerce environment that’s only growing more competitive, the best prepared retail web sites know exactly what their customers are shopping for and are providing personalized recommendations and offers to suit their needs.


Ed Kennedy is the Senior Director of Commerce at Episerver, a global software company offering web content management, digital commerce, and digital marketing, through the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud software platform.

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