Why don’t e-retailers know us as well as Uber or Pandora?

September 15, 2015 03:10 PM

When you actually think about it, we’re living in the future. I mean, how much better can it get? Not only is the universe totally accessible all of the sudden, but it’s also become astoundingly intuitive and convenient. Virtually everything we can dream of rests within the palm of our hands, and can be called up with two or three finger swipes.

I’m sitting in an Uber on my way to the airport. I ordered the car with two taps and it arrived in two minutes. It even (correctly) guessed my destination. On the ride, I’ve been listening to my own radio station that’s playing music based off a single song I liked on Pandora. Ever since I created it a few months ago, this station keeps getting better. All I’ve had to do is course correct here and there by liking and disliking a few songs.

My Google app just alerted me that my flight this afternoon is delayed by 35 minutes. Another alert told me there’s a traffic jam on the expressway. At the airport, it’s just a swipe and I’m scanned through security. At the gate I log into Netflix and my favorite movie from college (which I won’t mention here) has just shown up in the “Top Picks for Kurt” area. Looks like Netflix bought the rights to it. I haven’t seen it in years. But before I start, I’m going to head to a department store’s site to see if I can quickly pick up a bathing suit for the weekend.

But there’s nothing intuitive or convenient about trying to buy something online.

All of the sudden the custom tailored, utopian world I thought I lived in just went to complete shambles. I feel like I’ve been transformed into some kind of 1960s caricature of the future. My smartphone has turned into Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone.

Let me explain. When I land on the site, the entire screen literally goes dark. A pop-up appears with an arrow pointing to the menu bar and instructions tell me to “simply click here to search, shop and even check out!” I have to put my finger on a tiny “x” on the top right corner to close this message. The top third of my screen is now eaten up by a recommendation to download the retailer’s app. The suggestion is like asking a date to come upstairs before we’ve even ordered our first course. No thanks. I have enough apps. And I just want to find a swimsuit.

I’ve browsed this site several times in the past and have never looked at anything other than menswear. Yet the first thing I see is a hero image for a makeup kit. The first few suggested categories are for “Juniors,” “Kids,” and “Beauty.” I search for bathing suits. There are no less than 24 results on my screen and 48 more pages to go. By the time I reach the third page I’ve found a couple of men’s options. But for all intents and purposes I feel like I’m swimming through a digital warehouse of goods. Despite the fact that I click on specific items that might share common attributes, I get no personalized results, but rather very generic suggestions. 

The fact that I receive several emails per week from this retailer about women’s merchandise starts to make more sense to me. Either they don’t know me at all or I have an undiagnosed case of multiple personality disorder coupled with amnesia, and during my blackouts I browse the site for widely bizarre items. I am hoping for the former.

The process of trying to find my bathing suit becomes so frustrating that I give up and return to the slick utopian world that envelops me. But I’m left with a major question in my mind.

Why hasn’t e-commerce managed to catch up with the caliber of individualized experiences that surround us? The excuse that technology is incapable of supporting them doesn’t hold up. Great strides have been made with storage capacity, its costs, as well as processing power. As these other services have proven, we’re living in the future.

I’ve got news. It’s perfectly possible to anticipate and respond to an individual and their real-time needs. There is no reason why e-commerce sites can’t leverage each of their visitor’s behavior and preferences in a way that makes their shopping experiences more relevant, engaging, and likely to foster much better merchandise discovery.

There are two things that should encourage retailers to take that extra step from generic presentation or even broad segments to this more individually focused approach. First shoppers are demanding it. Their e-commerce engagements look stupid and immature when juxtaposed with the 90% of their other digital experiences. They see through the awkward promotions and overly simplistic product recommendations. And when they see and feel it, they start to look towards brands that provide them with more successful experiences. They vote with their wallets.

The second thing is that by delivering more curated and individualized experiences, the retailer can generate significant improvements in shopper conversion and revenue. Not only because they will attract more shoppers, but when you help your shoppers find what they are looking for, you end up creating higher engagement, less shopper fatigue and dramatically higher conversion rates.

Shoppers are losing patience and it’s time for retailers to come to the party. Rather than take consumers back in time, shoot instead for the intelligent, engaging experiences that the modern digital consumer has grown to expect. Welcome to the future.

Reflektion provides personalized site search and product recommendation technology for online retailers.




Top Solution Providers