A 2015 study by VentureBeat states that 75% of “digital natives” expect personalized shopping experiences. Not a real shocker, since personalized shopping experiences have become a hot ticket in the world of online retail. Customers enjoy being swooned with items tailored to their tastes.

 

Case in point: yours truly is guilty of visiting a clothing site for *one* shirt and exiting with an entire week’s worth of outfits. Oops.

It’s easy to think that product recommendations are a simple “plug and play” approach. But the meat of the matter lies in executing this strategy intelligently in order to produce the most effective results.

Let’s explore the anatomy of effective onsite product recommendations to help you leverage the benefits.

 

The 6 Layers of Product Recommendations

The home page

A site’s homepage is a crucial base for product recommendations. Baymard Institute’s research supports this claim by reporting that 25% of test visitors scroll down and back up the homepage for a quick gauge of the site’s product offerings.

The philosophy is simple: show the people what they want (even if they don’t yet know they want it). For instance, Dollar Shave Club hits the ground running when it comes to promoting their 3 pc. starter sets. Also, with a name like “The Best F**King Starter Set”, you want people to notice your product at first glance:

New visitors are obviously more of a challenge to gauge since you’ve yet to collect any behavioral data from them. In this case, display items with the highest conversion rates (i.e. top sellers). Returning visitors, on the other hand, can also be shown top sellers, but only the ones relevant to items they’ve previously viewed or purchased. Also factor in items that they’ve viewed in the past but did not purchase to drive them towards a sale.

 

Product pages

We’ve all fallen victim to it at some point: you’re browsing through a site looking for, say, a pair of running sneakers, and end up dumping your initial shoe eye candy for something younger, sleeker and more popular.

The folks at Nike, for instance, encouraged me to rethink my potential shoe purchase (pictured below) by dangling a few other more appealing options:

 

The reason? Visitors who land on a product page are still in search mode. While they browse, take the opportunity to offer relevant alternatives and complementary products: this is known as up-selling and cross-selling (respectively). In fact, back in 2006, Amazon reported that 35% of its revenue was a product of cross-selling and up-selling. A few worthy strategies to reap this reward:

  • Set up a dynamic up-selling filter to push similarly priced or higher-priced items (or both) to boost AOV. This inspires the customer to continue searching, while enabling you to promote a variety of relevant items.
  • When cross-selling, save the accessories and/or low value categories for last (and we’ll cover more of this in a bit). Basically, these are the impulsive, last minute purchases that usually occur at checkout (because who can turn down a pair of aggressive ankle socks to match their new outfit purchase? Not me.)

 

Search pages

Anticipating what your customer is searching for is the cherry on the sundae of personalized shopping. The ideal search page incorporates intelligent recommendations–items that other customers have viewed and purchased to guide customers along their journey. The fun part? Intelligent recommendations are also grammar gurus and can spot incorrect search terms, instead displaying items similar to that term. For maximum ease-of-use, search recommendations should be displayed above the fold so customers can easily find what they’re searching for. 

Sur La Table is a prime example of gearing their customers towards the products they want:

 

Category pages

Think of category pages as an enticing prelude to your product offerings. Display the best sellers in the browsed category to inspire customers to dig deeper. The question is: where to position this list? We recommend either the lateral bar or at the bottom of the page. It’s an extra boost of inspiration for customers who’ve scrolled to the bottom of the page and have yet to find an interesting item. Take personalization up a notch by leveraging your data of customer behavior and the customer’s individual preferences. With this, you can display the most relevant products for each individual visitor. Want to really woo a curious customer? Enable them to easily navigate back and forth between interesting items (a key element for mobile shopping as well, where navigation can be a bit more challenging).

Upon hovering over the Massage section of their site, Brookstone suggested a swanky massage chair to feed my affinity for ultra-comfortable furniture:

 

Shopping cart page

This page is prime time for up-selling–the perfect moment to offer complimentary items to complete a customer’s purchase (remember the aggressive ankle socks?). Add in some product recommendations on this page to remind your customer about the most relevant items browsed. Fun fact: up to 25% of customers who click on these recommendations actually order the item (just make sure to exclude items already in their cart).

Free shipping incentives are also an effective way to push product recommendations. And if you offer free delivery above a certain spend value, help the customer reach that minimum value by offering products to add to their cart. This will surely up your customer service game.

After adding the aggressive ankle socks to my Urban Outfitters cart, their site offers other equally punchy sock designs to complement the purchase:

 

Error and out-of-stock pages

 When you’re pleasantly traveling down the retail rabbit hole, finding an item you like and being hit with a 404 message is a major mood killer. From a retailer standpoint, many online shops fail to look at a 404 page with a “glass half full” mentality. Sure, it’s a huge inconvenience. But instead of redirecting to other pages on the site or simply slapping an error message on the page and calling it a day, why not turn the inconvenience into an opportunity? Use error pages to display:

  • Best sellers (to keep customers engaged with your hottest sellers)
  • Browsing history (to display items based on the customer’s product breadcrumb trail)
  • Items related to their browsing history (to expand on said breadcrumb trail).
  • Items similar to the ones your customer is interested in.

This Big Frank hat from Goorin Bros. may be out of commission, but Goorin made sure to offer relevant alternatives to veer the shopping experience away from disappointment:

 

Behold the Power of Titles

Recommending products to a shopper is one thing; how you communicate said products to a shopper is a separate component with equally heavy responsibility. To increase AOV, consider testing a variety of titles to determine which words/phrases drive the most action. Here are some prime examples:

Sephora features a selection of top sellers under the title “Editor’s Picks” to establish a trustworthy rapport with the shopper.

Powell’s Books uses a similar approach to Sephora’s by introducing top sellers as “Picks of the Month”.

Kate Spade is every bit the cheeky talker when it comes to promoting their products. If this is an appropriate approach for your brand, consider A/B testing with some clever titles.

Nosto’s 3 Main Takeaways:

1. 75% of digital-savvy customers expect a personalized shopping experience. Don’t let these shoppers down.
2. Maximize the use of product recommendations by incorporating them throughout relevant sections of your site.
3. Words matter. Create captivating titles for product recommendations to attract attention and drive action.

We’ve seen first-hand how powerful onsite product recommendations are (Madlady, a fellow Nosto-powered retailer, saw a 90% improvement in conversions through recommendations alone). Feeling inspired? Check out our top reads below to find more valuable ecommerce tips.