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Zappos exec: Does customization trump personalization on mobile?

RANCHO MIRAGE, CA ? A Zappos executive at the Mobile Shopping Summit 2015 stressed the importance of focusing on customization on mobile to prevent consumers from becoming overwhelmed with personalization choices, thereby driving more engagement and conversions.

During the ?Keynote: Personalization vs. Customization ? Developing Marketing Strategies and Experiences That Foster Serendipity? session, the executive cautioned marketers against offering users too many choices for personalizing their mobile application or site, as that could become detrimental to offering a streamlined experience. Instead, brands should focus on collecting aggregate data and customer feedback to automatically customize content for users.

?When we think about customization, the image that comes to mind is a big edit button,? said Aki Iida, head of mobile at Zappos, Las Vegas. ?But that can be time-consuming for the customer to have to go into your app and have to deal with all the settings.

?Also, it?s time-consuming for the 

work that goes into building the infrastructure that allows customers to customize their experience, the storage and management of all that customization, and the maintenance, and additional testing and design work that needs to be done to manage these customizable features.?

Anticipating customers? needs
A core aspect of mobile marketing is anticipating what products or services users may be on the lookout for, and consequently serving them with relevant content customized to their previously-documented preferences. However, while some brands may be tempted to offer their site or app visitors a slew of personalization options, such as changing the font style or color, this can easily overwhelm consumers.

Therefore, the self-personalization process can actually hurt browsing experiences if customers do not know what they are doing. It may become more difficult for them to interact with features that could potentially be helpful in driving conversions, or later on, sales.

Zappos revealed it maintains several ways of collecting aggregate data to customize each user?s presented content. It keeps track of which products consumers look at, and locates any patterns that may occur from users hopping from one item to another.

For example, if a customer views a slew of sandal-type shoes in a short amount of time, Zappos can deduce that he or she may be gearing up for a warm vacation. It can then target the user with additional accessories meant for sunny weather.

The company also keeps track of how its users look at products, as it offers choices including multi-view imagery and videos.

Providing optimal customer experiences
Zappos drives conversions among consumers by studying its customer-to-customer data to better understand what shoppers are looking for and how they prefer conducting their searches. A paramount tactic for any marketer is observing and listening to customers, especially via feedback.

Zappos works closely alongside its call center, which offers information on what consumers think about their experience with the brand.

This helps it identify all areas where they may more easily capture customer preferences and customize content without asking the user for help. Preferences may include brands that users like and search terms they input into the app or mobile site.

Last April, Zappos made the shopping process even more streamlined for its Android customers by updating its mobile application to include a series of personalized widgets, proving that offering in-app recommendations based on previous purchasing behavior is a valuable strategy for mobile and online retailers (see story).

The brand also focused on streamlining the experience even more by making Apple?s Touch ID technology available to its app users (see story).

Ultimately, users will appreciate brands that take the time to understand their needs and preferences, especially if they are long-lasting customers. Offering customized content for each unique visitor may be more difficult on the back-end side, but will yield a deeper relationship with consumers.

?Personalization is getting more and more complex,? Mr. Iida said.

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Marketer, New York