In my opinion: thriving online retailers must be personal and relevant, says Apptus


With the e-commerce industry developing at an express pace, retailers need to learn why segregated, ‘best-of-breed’ merchandising systems no longer make sense in today’s time-poor retail world. The customer expects an optimised and efficient shopping experience and the retailer is constantly looking to drive customer lifetime values and boost brand loyalty, says Andrew Fowler, UK country manager, Apptus Technologies

Fowler: personal, relevant and joined up approach

Fowler: personal, relevant and joined up approach

Time is precious for most professions, but few more so than that of an e-commerce manager. With their time often consumed by managing multiple vendors, the process of both daily system management and contract renewal becomes an on-going, time-eroding battle and stands in the way of their day-to-day role and objectives. 

From managing and updating search engines, recommendation engines, content management systems and A/B testing tools, to handling analytics tools, content delivery networks, tag managers and product information managers; each require careful organisation, come with their own problems and are a drain on valuable time. 

But aside from time, there is a greater concern that arises from managing sites built from these multiple, disparate systems – merchandising and its effectiveness online.  

Get personal and be relevant

Successful online retailers focus on being two things: personal and relevant. The online consumer journey is a completely different experience to that of an in-store customer, so the journey needs to reflect this.  

In the world of e-commerce, we’ve moved on from selling, to facilitating the customer’s buying process. E-commerce directors and online merchandisers need to optimise the customer experience, by delivering what their customers care about.

Optimising the online experience

Traditional in-store merchandisers are constantly looking at new ways to improve the experience for their customers and with the luxury of thousands of square feet of store space, accessorised mannequins, attractive gondolas and showcase displays, they are able to create an environment that is conducive to driving sales. 

For their online counterparts however, having to work within the constraints of an inflexible e-commerce platform or rule-based and point solutions adds unnecessary complexity to an already complex issue. Add to this the inability to leverage key merchandising components such as search, navigation, and recommendations to create a tailored and intuitive customer experience, and it is clear retailers need to get savvy with their online merchandising. But how do retailers do this?

Firstly, retailers can only meet customer expectations by achieving excellence in customer understanding, powered by both qualitative and quantitative, historic and current data that provides the context that’s critical for retailers to take relevant actions.

Secondly, customers’ needs aren’t static or compartmentalised, so their experiences on your website shouldn’t be either. To provide a tailored, intuitive and dynamic customer experience requires a unified, real-time approach across all of the key elements in the merchandising toolset.  

Common mistakes retailers should avoid

Presenting the same product over and over again is not going to entice a customer into making a purchase, if anything it is going to ruin the experience and turn the customer off. This can easily happen when separate, independent systems are not working together and are unaware of what has previously been selected for display by the other merchandising ecosystems.

With each system usually biasing their choices towards best sellers, another challenge is the under-promotion of new products. With each disparate system working independently, and biasing their choices towards best sellers, new products, some of which with the potential to become best sellers, don’t see the light of day.   

An integrated system aware of customer behaviours across the site can naturally afford to trial new products as it has a unified view on product exposure and able to balance both best sellers and potential future best sellers.

Let science meet retail

Online buying behaviour is a completely different discipline to that in-store and it is essential retailers become tech savvy and take advantage of the data available to them; ensuring their virtual customers get the online experience they expect.

We are entering the age of merchandising as a science, and, as any good scientist knows, good science requires good data and good experimental controls. The current, prevalent e-commerce “best-of-breed” model has its place, but if retailers are to thrive the harsh realities of modern merchandising cannot be ignored. Our merchandising systems need to be as joined-up and co-ordinated as our thinking.

With such hectic schedules and an ever increasing workload, e-commerce managers ought to look at a more unified approach to search and merchandising to streamline their daily routine and also give customers what they want to improve retention.   

But why should retailers invest time and money in developing and delivering a better online customer journey? 

Primarily, because if they don’t, their customers will go elsewhere. Analysing data and providing an optimised and personal experience for online shoppers enables retailers to truly differentiate themselves – delighting their customers which builds loyalty and drives revenue.

Successful brands understand their online potential and customers, and those that don’t will fail. 

Your online customer wants to feel valued. Yes, delighting your customers online is a challenge, but cutting-edge retailers are re-defining personalisation, taking a unified approach to traditional point solutions so that they can guide, advise and inspire their online customers with instant content, in context increasing their lifetime value.  

Remember, customers don’t care about the complexity of your site. They care about getting exactly what they want, easily and quickly. 

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A Retail Times’ sponsored article