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There are so many personalization technologies on the market. Too many. With an endless number of available vendors using a long list of buzzwords to describe complicated features, it can quickly become confusing and overwhelming to figure out what vendor is best for you and the needs of your business.

With that said, 4-Tell has compiled 10 questions you should ask on your next demo to help sift through the jargon and get down to what really matters when evaluating personalization vendors.

1. Does your solution use machine-learning or rules-driven personalization? 

When evaluating vendors, a personalization solution that is driven by machine-learning will often better serve the needs of your team and the customer.

Where machine-learning uses algorithms to track, learn and automatically execute insights from customer behavior in real-time, rules-driven personalization is manually driven by the rules that you define. And it’s exactly those static rules that can end up hurting the customer experience and your team’s productivity.

Static rules that are based on predefined customer segments simply can’t produce the most relevant results for every individual at every moment of their journey. Customer needs and contexts change fast. When results aren’t based on real-time behavior, it’s likely the recommendations won’t be relevant enough to drive conversion.

Moreover, your team has to invest a lot of extra time creating and tweaking campaigns. And when ecommerce managers are already managing 50+ ecommerce widgets throughout their day-to-day, time is not something that’s readily available.

Download 4-Tell’s Personalization Technology Checklist to read the 8 capabilities that are key to delivering fantastic 1:1 customer experiences.

2. Does your algorithm use a segmented, individual or collaborative filtering approach to personalization?

The difference between these algorithmic approaches can mean the difference between customers converting or not. Making sure you’re working with a vendor who uses sophisticated machine-learning, like collaborative filtering, to drive results will ensure you’re getting optimal ROI.

Algorithms with a segmented approach will group together customers and use their common behaviors to personalize results, whereas algorithms that take an individual approach treat each customer as their own segment – only the behavior of the individual customer drives the personalization.

More advanced algorithms use a combination of both these approaches. Known as collaborative filtering, it tracks a visitor’s engagement with products, puts them into a group of people with similar preferences and then recommends products by comparing the individual to others in his cluster. Netflix, for example, uses this type of algorithm.

By balancing general customer trends and the immediate behavior of individual customers, collaborative filtering can deliver the most fine-tuned results that end in conversion.

3. Does your solution support cross-channel personalization? 

Working with a vendor who can support the mobile experience and serve up recommendations based on customers holistic behavior will ensure your solution is driving optimal cross-channel conversion.

If you’re an ecommerce manager, you need to know that a personalization solution can support the mobile experience. It’s critical to driving conversion and optimizing the customer experience. Besides having deployable mobile recommendations, this also means that the solution has the ability to recognize the customer as they switch devices. If a solution can’t connect real-time behavior across devices, customers will receive a disjointed experience.

Lastly, you should be aware of the data the solution uses to personalize experiences. You want to work with a vendor who brings together all first party data – not just customers online data – from existing backend systems like point-of-sale (POS), CRM and ecommerce platforms to create a holistic, personalized experience.

Here’s some follow-up questions you may want to ask:

  • Does your solution support personalization on the mobile experience?
  • Can your solution recognize customers – and allow them to pick-up where they left off – as they switch devices?
  • Do you integrate first party data?

4. What personalization capabilities do you offer? (how can I grow with your service?)

If you’re going to invest in a personalization vendor, you want to make sure they can personalize every aspect of your ecommerce website possible.

Ecommerce managers – this question can be a make or break for you. You are already incredibly overwhelmed with the amount of tools and widgets you have on your ecommerce website. It takes a lot of time, and planning, to make sure all your widgets are working together to create a better customer experience.

Having a personalization solution that can customize every aspect of your website will enable you to consolidate widgets while ensuring you don’t have to add in more tools later on when new needs arise.

Use these follow-up questions as a checklist for available personalization capabilities:

  • Do you enable product recommendations for any page or place on my ecommerce site?
  • Do you offer product recommendations for email?
  • Do you offer predictive site search?
  • Do you offer faceted search (categorical facets for filtering products)?
  • Can you provide personalized results for category pages (i.e. – surface most relevant categories first on category pages, based on customer behavior)?
  • Do you offer personalized content recommendations?

5. What departments on my team will benefit or use this service?

While your organization may not have the bandwidth or budget to handle a robust personalization solution that drives experiences in-store and online, it’s good to go with a vendor who can support experiences within both environments. That way, you can grow with your vendor down the line and eventually create the holistic, personalized experience your customers crave.

Generally, there are four primary departments that a personalization solution can serve: marketing, ecommerce, merchandising and sales.

Some personalization solutions can stretch beyond the ecommerce experience by surfacing insights that enable in-store sales associates to create a personalized, brick-and-mortar experience and help merchandisers make data-driven merchandising decisions. Other solutions solely drive activities on the ecommerce site by providing insights that help digital marketers target specific segments of customers online or that allow ecommerce teams to better understand the overall performance of the ecommerce website.

Making sure your personalization solution has insights that are made to support both offline and online teams will be key in driving maximum impact.

Use these questions to gain more clarity on the scope of the solution:

  • Who are the end users of your product?
  • What insights do you surface? What action will it allow my teams to take?
  • How will your insights drive the online and in-store experience?

6. What unique capabilities do you offer that will allow me to create a more personalized and differentiated customer experience?

Unfortunately for retailers, jacking-up your ecommerce site with personalization is the bare minimum for today’s consumers. Where conversion rates hover at a consistent 2%, you need to create a unique experience that stands out from other ecommerce sites and keeps customers coming back.

Considering this, it’s important to ask if vendors offer any differentiated capabilities that can further personalize the online experience.

Rightfully so, it can be hard to imagine what this would look like if it’s an innovative feature new to the market. Let’s use 4-Tell, for example. 4-Tell has used our machine-learning engine to create personalized landing pages that dynamically change to the needs, preferences and history of every unique customer. In addition to visually displaying customer’s full history, wishlisted items, recently viewed items and product recommendations on the landing page, the customized site also includes the participation of in-store sales associates – something no other vendor offers.

Looking for unique personalized experiences like this that will allow your ecommerce site to stick out from the crowd is key when partnering with a vendor.

Even if the vendor doesn’t have anything that drastically sets them apart, ask if they’d be willing to innovate their product to the needs of your customers. That way, you can grow with your vendor and create a unique online experience together.

7. What insights – if any – will be available to me and my teams?

In your quest for a personalization vendor, it’s important that you’re able to find a solution that surfaces valuable insights to you and your teams.

Many personalization vendors operate as a ‘black-box.’ Meaning, none of the data that the solution tracks – including the insights it might glean from machine-learning – aren’t accessible to your teams.

Without actionable insights at your fingertips, the solution will be a wasted investment. The customer and product data a personalization solution tracks can be highly valuable in driving revenue with high-value customer segments, making data-driven merchandising decisions and enabling fluid in-store experiences.

Here’s some follow-up questions to make sure you’re getting all the insights possible:

    • Do you surface 360 shopper profiles? Do the profiles include shopper history and real-time ecommerce data?
    • Do you have predefined segments of customers that identify groups of users who are high-value or underperforming?
    • Will I be able to access product performance, including a complete product catalog?
  • Can I access predictive suggestions for customers and/or products? (psst. This is a MUST for omnichannel managers – accessible predictive insights are super valuable for in-store associates and customer service associates to drive purchases with customers)

8. How can I measure the impact of your solution?

It’s hard to justify an investment without understanding exactly how it will impact critical metrics. To fully test, learn and drive results with your solution, it’s important that you’re able to always access performance metrics at broad and granular levels.

During your demo, make sure it’s clear how they measure performance and what results are made available to you.

These questions will help define critical components of a tool’s performance management:

  • How do you define attribution for your solution?
  • Am I able to drill-down to page-level results? What about broad results across the entire website?
  • What metrics are available?
  • Do you integrate with Google Analytics?

9. What is the average time to implementation?

Vendors often make it seem like their solution can be up and running with a snap of their fingers. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. More often than not, it can take a matter of months of data configuration and pre-learning before the solution starts driving impact on your website. On the other hand, some solutions can start providing results in a few weeks time.

It’s important to make sure to ask this question to align your teams goals and expectations with the implementation timeline.

Consider asking these follow-up questions to get more clarity around the implementation process:

  • How long will it take before the solution starts driving impact?
  • Do I need to provide IT staff for implementation, or does your team do it for us?
  • How much time will I need to spend toward solution maintenance moving forward?

10. What kind of training or support do you offer?

Implementing a new solution requires ample support and training. Without proper training, your teams won’t get the most value out of your solution. And for larger organizations, that may require a personalized onboarding process that takes into account your unique needs, tools and processes.

Likewise, if you don’t have the necessary support to troubleshoot unforeseen problems that arise, it can cause massive delays in your teams progress and drive away customers who experience glitches on your website.

While some vendors use automated chatbots for customer support, it may be pertinent to work with a vendor who assigns a support team or that has 24/7 call-center support.

Consider these questions, too:

  • Do you have documentation for implementation?
  • Do you have training documentation?
  • Do you have 24/7 support?
  • How/when can I reach a representative when problems arise?


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