We’ve all been in that meeting. Each merchandiser is pushing to promote their own product, especially when they are sitting on stock. “Let’s put the orange trousers on the homepage” says one, “we must promote the new season product” says another, “menswear never gets exposure,” declares the last. You look at your watch, it’s 5:45pm. “Let’s put them all on a carousel” you announce, “and get out of here,” you mutter under your breath.

As a commerce professional, you know that every time you suggest a carousel, a little piece of you dies. You know deep down that carousels have confirmed usability issues, the eye-tracking report from your usability session proved that users look around them and rarely focus on the selected images. If you dig deep, you understand that most users won’t see all of the slides in a homepage carousel, even one that auto-rotates. They simply don’t stick around the homepage long enough.

This broad-brush approach paints the wrong picture, it’s a lose-lose compromise. The carousel is popular not because it is loved, but because nobody hates it. The same reason is why pizza restaurants are ubiquitous. When planning a restaurant visit, there is always a lone voice who will veto your cravings for fish or Greek food, but almost everyone likes pizza, even the fussy ones will eat it, and that is where you will end up.

Breaking the pizza habit

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Personalisation can help merchandising and marketing teams quickly prove that the optimal action is to replace the carousel with a static homepage image, firstly by conducting an A/B or MVT test, then, taking a continuous-improvement approach, you can prove that using segment based personalisation, showing one image based on a category you have established the user has an interest in, is even better.

As an example, we’ve been working with online motorcycle clothing and accessories retailer RevZilla, which sells a range of motorcycle equipment. The RevZilla marketing team were worried that the carousel on its category pages, which cycled through in-depth video reviews, was too intimidating for customers and wanted to see if there was a better alternative.

Revzilla optimised the experience by trialling two alternatives. The first replaced the carousel with two banners, linking to a newsletter sign-up and to its product reviews; the second added a third banner, promoting motorcycle products that RevZilla had awarded with its own badge of excellence. It found both test panels performed better than the original video carousel, in particular, Version one generated a double-digit percentage lift in new customer acquisition versus the original carousel.

From individual creative to individual decisions

In retail, it is well understood that targeting different pieces of marketing creative to different market segments, enables us to appeal to more customers than using a single piece of creative. This segment based marketing approach is achieved by reviewing marketing personas, top-line customer data and web analytics to enable us to place customers into neatly defined segments.

Of course, the great fantasy of marketing, that unique creative can be produced for every single customer, is simply unrealistic:  the incremental gains from designing individual creative are simply outweighed by the diminishing returns of targeting ever smaller market segments and the added work of managing all those segments. However, there is a more effective way, and the advances of machine learning mean we can do better than just designing new creative for increasingly granular segments.

Machine driven personalisation allows brands to maximise the return on creative by ensuring they serve the very best choice to each person, every time. Instead of serving a single variant optimised for the average majority, but losing those outside that group, or sub-dividing an audience into more labour-intensive micro-segments, machine driven personalisation makes individual decisions in real time to decide which of the available options is best for each individual customer based on their data.

This changes the emphasis from producing infinite creative options; it’s about incorporating all known data about an individual to make the best decision, to show them the most relevant experience in that moment.

Whilst the logic is hardly revelatory, the data proves that irrespective of whether retailers utilise segment based personalisation or machine driven personalisation to deliver content, there are significant business benefits to improving the customer experience in the shape of increased customer acquisition, increased conversion rates and higher customer lifetime value and retention rates. Fundamentally, a recent study found that 78 per cent of brands believe that an integrated ecommerce and in-store experience is business critical. Why is this? Unsurprisingly it all comes down to money. A 2016 survey by Retail Week and Drapers magazines, reported that 36 per cent of respondents saw a return-on-investment of 2-5 times – or greater from personalisation. Take Monetate’s work with online clothing brand JD Williams for example; serving different content to new versus returning visitors delivered an 18% increase in new visitor conversion and a 12% increase in revenue per customer.

Ultimately, ecommerce executives have the tools to avoid ending up with the ‘pizza restaurant’ carousel and is enabled, instead, to satisfy multiple different tastes and requirements, through the Smorgasbord of personalisation.

Paul Knutton

Paul Knutton


Paul Knutton, Senior Digital Consultant at Monetate.