Producing our annual shopping cart abandonment study, where we look at the shopping cart abandonment practices of retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 and Second 500 guides gives us the opportunity to study other aspects of leading retailers’ digital marketing efforts, as well. With personalization being one of the most prevalently discussed topics by retailers, one of those additional areas we took a look at for our most recent study was use of recommendations both on-site and in email.

Here’s what we found and how and why leading retailers could be doing even more.

Recommendations Onsite

For leading retailers, the most popular page to feature product recommendations on is the product detail page, and the 70.4% of top one thousand retailers who do so are fairly evenly split among the Top 500 (37.1%) and Second 50 (33.3%).

After the product detail page, however, the usage of onsite recommendations falls surprisingly low, with fewer than half of the top one thousand retailers featuring them on the homepage (44.7%) and cart page (44.2%), and the fewest (15.8%) featuring them on the category page.

Suggested Strategies for Online Recommendations

Personalized recommendations can help to increase time on site, AOV and conversion rates. That type of impact can make a big difference on your bottom line, so it only makes sense to put recommendations on multiple points along the conversion funnel. That being said, the shopper’s experience has to stay top of mind, and the recommendations you make at each touchpoint need to support that experience in a meaningful way.

Homepage – For a shopper just landing on your homepage for the first time, lead with proven winners like best sellers or trending products. If applicable, highlight products with high customer ratings to support their value even more. For returning shoppers, make sure these recommendations are tailored to their recent buying signals. You can lean on brand and category preferences to aid in product discovery and mix in some recently browsed products as well.

Category page – For some shoppers a category page can be underwhelming - too many options, not enough clear direction. You can use this opportunity to highlight best sellers in the category or new arrivals for new shoppers who are just getting familiar with your product offering. For return shoppers, you can use the same merchandising tactics you would use for new shoppers, only now make sure you keep their style, brand or pricing preferences in line with your category specific recommendations.

Product page – Once a shopper arrives on a PDP you have a few different options. It’s a great opportunity to provide alternative options to the featured product, but when doing so, try not to offer discounted alternatives unless you are trying to specifically move inventory. You can also provide complementary options if your goal is to increase items per order. Including recently browsed items also has an impact on the shopper’s experience, because it keeps previously considered products top of mind and aids in site navigation.

Cart page – The cart page provides an opportunity to increase AOV by highlighting promotions like free shipping thresholds and recommending complementary products. Including options to add recommended products to the cart directly from the cart page can help to minimize distractions and keep shoppers traveling down the conversion funnel.

Recommendations in Email

For product recommendations in email, we specifically looked at the Welcome Series and Shopping Cart Abandonment campaigns of the IR Top 500 and Second 500 retailers. In a future study we will reveal how many of these top retailers actually send Welcome emails after acquiring a new subscriber, but it’s important to note here that fewer than six of 10 send any at all, and that number declines for each subsequent email in the Welcome Series.

Of those Top 500 and Second 500 retailers who do send Welcome Messages, however, surprisingly few use them to present personalized product recommendations to new subscribers, especially in the first and second emails. That being said, the third Welcome Series email, for the few top retailers who send one, is the most popular for recommendations - we might assume because retailers believe they have ample data on the new subscriber by the time it is sent.  

Of the little more than one third of Top 500 and Second 500 retailers who send at least one Shopping Cart Abandonment message, just 16.2% feature product recommendations in it. Of those who send a second email in the series, slightly more incorporate recommendations into the email, and for those who send a third Shopping Cart Abandonment email, it is the least popular for featuring suggested products.

Triggered emails are a great opportunity to incorporate recommendations because the messaging is a direct response to a consumer action.  When you combine relevancy in timing and content, you set the stage for a significant boost in impact.

Welcome Series - This is your first opportunity to prove that there is value in being an email subscriber of your brand. What better way to show that you can provide value than by personalizing the content to the individual subscriber? Many retailers are hesitant to include product recommendations in the first or second welcome email, and it’s a huge missed opportunity. This is a great opportunity to showcase the specific items they just browsed as well as recommendations based on that activity to help in product discovery. You can also include trending products or top sellers so that the content is continually updated based on the date the message is sent.

Shopping Cart Abandonment - Recommendations in cart abandonment emails should primarily focus on the insight gathered at the time of abandonment. What was the consumer considering before abandoning the conversion and how do you support that decision rather than detract from it? Testing whether or not recommendations make sense in this campaign is a must.

Anything that aids either new or returning customers in moving smoothly down the path to purchase benefits both the shopper and the retailer. When used strategically, personalized product recommendations, whether onsite or in email, enhance the shopper’s experience and help retailers meet specific goals.

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