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San Francisco Apple store employees on the day of the iPhone 5S launch, ready to sell. via Flickr

San Francisco Apple store employees on the day of the iPhone 5S launch, ready to sell. via Flickr

What do Apple and Airbnb have in common? In the last month, both companies nabbed key executives from top fashion and hospitality brands. Chip Conley, of boutique hotel operator Joie de Vivre joins Airbnb as Head of Hospitality and Apple hires ex Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, to head up its brick and mortar stores.

Each of these hires are meant to focus on the imminent need to differentiate their respective brands by providing a more personal and inspiring experience to the end user. Both new executives have spoken directly to the importance of personalization in their new roles.

“Airbnb’s are popular because of their focus on personalization and uniquely local experiences,” Conley says in a Forbes story discussing the move to Airbnb. “We want hosts to understand that the more we create unique experiences and the more localized experience it is, the more we meet the needs of guests.”

With a similar customer-centric ethos, Ahrendts suggests in a Fast Company interview, “What we have wanted to do is build an amazing brand experience and an amazing way that people can engage with the brand.”

As Airbnb and Apple continue to underscore the importance of knowing their customers and providing unique experiences to them, it is no wonder that companies, large and small, feel the pressure to follow suit. The ability to create personalized experiences for small audience groups has always been appealing to businesses but historically has been difficult to do and somewhat of an afterthought, especially online.

If a shopper walks into an Apple brick and mortar store and tells a retail associate he’s looking for a computer, the employee asks questions to learn exactly which type of computer and help make the sale. Do you want a desktop or laptop? What kind of processing speed do you need? What size screen? Online—at any retailer website—the shopper obviously doesn’t get the face-to-face buying experience with an employee, but that doesn’t mean shopping online cannot be uniquely tailored and personal.

Online, it’s all about website personalization at scale. The thing about online that positions it to deliver personal shopping experiences to customers at scale—much more efficiently than brick and mortar—is data. From the moment a visitor lands on a website, the site knows a lot about that visitor. How it got there, whether or not it has been to the site before, whether it’s on desktop or mobile—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. In order for retailers to create brick-and-mortar-style shopping experiences online, they actually have to use this easily available data and put it to action on their visitors.

We recently asked our customers at Optimizely about whether or not they use visitor data to create segments. Half of our customer respondents said they have already divided their website visitors into meaningful audiences or segments. Of the half who haven’t yet done this, 95 percent are “Very Interested” or “Somewhat Interested” in doing so. Not surprisingly, lack of human resources and most of all time have been some of the biggest barriers to building a strategy to deliver more personalized experiences to customers—but you can’t say that it’s lack of technology. Segmentation technology is here. It’s straightforward and widely available (there’s even a free trial of it). Every website—no matter the type or purpose—can improve by moving from a one-size-fits-all site to one tailored for different visitor segments.

Without a Conley or Ahrendts on your executive team, how will you (or are you) win(ning) big? What kind of interesting visitor segments have you created and what tools do you use to do it?

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