Since the ecommerce lift off, firms have been working to determine whether consumers' decision-making processes and motivations can be determined from their website behaviour so that they can 'align' with the customer. And new behavioural analytics products are indeed emerging that attempt to derive a new understanding of ecommerce customers.
Today's emarketers know more about their customers than ever before. Myriad analytics solutions provide volumes (and volumes!) of information about the demographic and past buying patterns of the customer. Lifecycle management and closed-loop marketing packages ensure that CRM is integrated into content management and website analytics. The drive to attract, convert and retain customers has never been stronger.
To the eshopper, however, the result of all this information can seem somewhat confusing. Product recommendations can seem intrusive and based on flawed logic. Advertising relevance based on demographic or past behaviour can miss the mark in many cases. Emerging technologies such as predictive customer modeling based on statistical group behaviour have some way to go before being relied upon by the majority of eretailers. Much of the answer, it seems, will be a combination of many of the solutions being deployed and used today.
Thankfully, we humans are adaptive creatures, and many of us are happy to ignore the assault of uninvited product recommendations ("the last time you were here you bought a Star Trek DVD, we now have the whole Star Wars collection available for you") and continue through the buying process. However, as the medium of ecommerce continues to mature, eshoppers will demand a more personalised and comfortable shopping experience and will be less likely to accept websites that present 'confusing', 'intrusive' or 'irrelevant' content.
The importance of alignment
The continuing question of how to provide website customers with a more familiar and comfortable shopping experience has led many behavioural scientists to examine our relationship with the ecommerce site on a more 'human' level. Research studies have shown that when customers describe their interaction with an ecommerce website they use the same phrases and words as they would in describing any shopping activity.
If they are allowed to, respondents will describe their decision-making process, their motivations, why and how they respond to content and advertising. It's all strikingly familiar survey-speak: "I like this website because it just gives me a search bar and lets me get what I want." "I like to shop here because of all of the customer reviews." "I'm sure that this site is secure and my purchases are guaranteed - I want to avoid any issues with my credit card." "The picture of the person using that notebook tells me nothing about the specs of the system so I did not click on the ad."
As the medium of ecommerce continues to mature, eshoppers will demand a more personalised and comfortable shopping experience and will be less likely to accept websites that present 'confusing', 'intrusive' or 'irrelevant' content.What might be surprising, however, is that these studies are not being performed to determine a given customer's preferred website functionality ("I like search bars"), but more to examine whether the language and phrasing used by the customer ("I", "gets me", "what I want") provides key new information that can be used in the current, or subsequent, website dialogue. This new focus arises from years of research observing the fundamentals of human communication.
The theory goes that, in any human dialogue, there is a period of negotiation in which the two parties search for behavioural alignment. Each party takes cues from the other's body language, tone and the actual words and phrases to 'sync' with the other. The best salespeople do this intuitively. They know what words and phrases to listen for and how to position their products, automatically and dynamically, in the 'right' way.
For example, insurance might be presented as the most comprehensive, or the lowest cost. Key specification information might be presented to one customer while another customer is regaled with external reviews and awards. Closing the deal might involve a regimented set of steps or multiple choices and options. The key for these salespeople is an understanding of the customer that is largely ignored in ecommerce environments. And, as people, alignment and familiarity are of paramount importance in how comfortable we feel in the buying process.
The question is: is there an accurate proxy for this behaviour in an ecommerce dialogue? Can we determine a customer's decision-making process, their motivations, and other 'human' factors in the buying process from their website behaviour? And can we respond with website content and behaviour that allows us to 'align' with those customers?
New behavioural analytics products are emerging that attempt to derive a new understanding of ecommerce customers. These products are mapping web-based actions, for example, keyword searches, navigation path and click-patterns. Behavioural scientists and psychologists are using this input and applying computer power such as 'fast artificial neural networks' to understand the more human factors of the customer's behaviour as they go through the buying process.
Behavioural scientists and psychologists are applying computer power such as 'fast artificial neural networks' to understand the more human factors of the customer's behaviour as they go through the buying process.Having this new understanding of the customer based on ecommerce site navigation has its challenges. Since body language and tone are not discernible from a web dialogue, these new behavioural analytics products are focusing on interpreting web-based behavior as a proxy for the language used in person-to-person communications.
Ecommerce marketers using these new products are experiencing a new view of their customers. Behavioural analytics tools allow additional segmentation of customers by buying behaviour. Traffic generation campaigns can be measured based on the buying behaviours attracted to the website, and compared with the conversion and return rates of those same customer segments as they traverse the site. Using these tools, the alignment of website behaviour and outbound campaigns can be measured accurately and actions to correct any dissonance can be taken immediately.
Telesales and service operators can be provided with a detailed analysis of anyone with more than a few clicks on the website, even providing those operators with a script (during the call) containing language that will align with that customer. Ultimately, behavioural tracking will integrate with content management solutions to provide each user with a personalised shopping experience. Behavioural analytics products today are having astounding results with some customers seeing 20% increases in revenue run-rates and 50% decreases in cost-per-conversion for pay-per-click campaigns.
So what does this mean for the future of ecommerce? Simply put, more personalisation. Ecommerce websites will drive to become differentiated by the customer experience and level of personalisation on the site - resulting in a better shopping experience for all of us.