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Online shopping is changing and as the pace of life gets quicker, customers want to find their perfect product and check out within minutes. Forward-thinking companies are starting to introduce Guided Selling techniques such as Product Guides to try keep up with online consumer buying trends, improve the online shopping experience and help consumers make the right choice. Here's why Guided Selling is revolutionising online shopping and how your business can create a Product Guide successfully and increase revenue.


Time is money

In a world of choice overload, your online shoppers can easily become overwhelmed. Endless search pages amass with irrelevant, unfiltered products can lead your customers to give up their search entirely. Product Guides prevent this from happening by acting as a virtual product advisor.

Creating a Product Guide for your website visitors is the perfect opportunity to ask them a few quick and relevant questions which allows AI and Guided Selling technology to get to know them better. They can then be guided towards their perfect product and away from irrelevant ones - saving your customer both time and energy.

A dating app for products?

Product Guides work on a very similar concept to dating apps, the user states what they want and what they don't want so that AI can filter out all the unsuitable matches and present them with their perfect suitor. Likewise, Product Guides aim to deliver the user a product match which makes them fall in love at first sight. So, how do you build a Product Guide? We’ve compiled a few top tips to help you! This way, you will point your customers in the right direction and give them an enjoyable online shopping experience.


1. "Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible"

-Tony Robbins

Defining your target group and different customer segments is the first step in identifying which kind of your products could suit which kind of customers. Try and get into your customer’s head and ask yourself whether their age or gender could affect their decision in choosing a certain product. Maybe style preferences or income could also come into play. However, it really does depend on your product. Questions could be anything from asking a customer's skin type to advise on moisturizers or desired MB speed to advise on broadband deals.

Take this Rolex watch for example:

What kind of person pops into your head when you look at this watch? What questions and answers would you provide the target group of this product in your Product Guide so that they would be directed to this suitable recommendation?


2. “The most simple things can bring the most happiness”

- Izabella Scorupco

Make life easy and don’t leave your customers guessing. Ensure you have clear and recognizable product names and simple filters which help your customer choose and define what they want in a product.

For example, if you are an online fashion retailer and would like to create a Product Guide which aims to help people find their perfect pair of jeans, the most relevant questions and answers you could pose would naturally be about style and cut.

Although, you must choose your wording carefully, e.g. would your target group for jeans be more aware about the expression "boyfriend fit" jean or "baggy loose-fitting" jean?


3. “An expert knows all the answers - if you ask the right questions”

- Levi Strauss

Chat with the people who know your customers best: your sales and marketing team. Get insights into what your different customer segments look for in your products and their typical buying behaviours.

Think about what features are particular to certain products and are also sought after by customers.

For example, someone who would like to buy a camera for their job as a professional photographer will have a different budget and requirements to someone taking it up as a hobby. Guided selling technology is able to distinguish which of your products suit which kind of customer.


4. “Visual storytelling utilizes both language and art to pass on the essence of who we are”

- Debbie Millman

Choose a theme which tells your brand’s story and make sure your language and image choices stylistically fit the essence of your business. Align your Product Guide with your vision, strategy and marketing message - just like you would with any other content piece.

Your Product Guide should engage your customers and make online shopping a more enjoyable experience as well as seamlessly integrate into your website layout. Canadian clothing label KOTN provides their customers with good quality cotton essentials, hence the simplistic, pure white color theme.


5. ”Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of an intelligent effort”

- John Ruskin

Quality assurance is an important final step before sending your Product Guide live. Make sure to test out its usability with your customers. Your chosen questions and answers should be easy to understand and direct your customer to a suitable product within a reasonable timeframe. For most Product Guides, 2 minutes is a sufficient amount of time for your customer to complete the questionnaire and be directed to their perfect product. However, we have experienced companies with more complex products whose Product Guides require up to 5 minutes - and this is totally fine as long as your questions and answers remain relevant and easy for the customer to follow.

The worst thing would be for the customer to give up filling out the Product Guide half way through - a Product Guide is basically a form of marketing so it's vital to keep it interesting and engaging like you would for any other piece of marketing content


6. “Marketing is really just about sharing your passion”

- Michael Hyatt

You can make the best Product Guide ever but if your customers can’t easily find it, then they can’t enjoy it!

Provide as many links to your Product Guide as possible and use top-level URLs with relevant keywords, e.g. www.yourbusiness.com/productguide. Creating a cool banner which links to the Product Guide is also a handy way to attract your customers into using the guide.


See how easy it is to build a Product Guide with the Workbench

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Easter - the time for family, reflection and renewal. Surprise your current customers and engage new ones with the excentos Product Finder. Providing gift inspiration to your customers has never been so easy as with the excentos Workbench.

In this blog post, we showcase some of our favorite Gift Finders and explain why they work so well for all kinds of people, genders and age groups.

1. For the Chocoholics... because nothing screams Easter more than chocolate!

Take me to the Gift Finder: Chocolat Gift Finder

? Hotel Chocolat

? Chocolate Specialists

Hotel Chocolat is a luxury British chocolatier and cocoa grower. With over 130 shops, cafes and restaurants, three boutiques in Copenhagen and a hotel on their cocoa plantation in the Caribbean, Hotel Chocolat are revolutionizing the chocolate industry.

What do we think? This exquisite Gift Finder is oozing in irresistible temptation and an insatiable appetite for the best chocolatey gift. Its simplistic yet luxurious design perfectly compliments the Hotel Chocolat brand. Shopping for Easter eggs has never been so fun!

2. Treats for the kids

Take me to the Gift Finder: Mytoys Gift Finder

? MyToys

? Children's toy specialists

MyToys is Germany's leading retailer of children's toys and accessories and one of the 12 largest online shops in the country! They are a multi-channel retailer with 14 branches.

What do we think? The variety of themes and adorable images easily gets the personality of the child across to the buyer. This Gift Finder is also quite extensive, asking several questions about the recipient to ensure it delivers suitable and intelligent AI-driven recommendations. A win-win situation for both you and your customer. Your customer happily walks away with the perfect gift and you increase your sales.

Take me to the Gift Finder: Smythstoys Gift Finder

? Smyth's Toys

? Children's toy specialists

Smyth's is Ireland's largest toy store and a multinational chain provider of children's toys and entertainment products.

What do we think? The simple theme and colors perfectly fit the branding of a toy store and the graphic of the young boy brings life to the Gift Finder. It's also a great idea to offer users the chance to specify their maximum spend, especially when it comes to buying things like toys which we all know can easily leave a hole in our pocket. Additionally, by filtering out products which are not within the customer's price range, you can better highlight the products which they can afford and are more likely to buy.

3. For the book worms wanting a fresh read this spring...

Take me to the Gift Finder: Magazine Gift Finder

? Magazine UK

? The Magazine Specialists

Magazine UK is the UK's largest online subscription site for hundreds of magazines to suit everyone's preferences.

What do we think? It's always nice to receive advice and tips on what could be a good read. This cool Gift Finder asks about the recipient's personality which is always an important factor in finding the perfect gift.

4. For the whole family!

Take me to the Gift Finder: Gift Finder

? Gifts.com

? The Ultimate Gift Website

Gifts.com is an online shop selling a large assortment of products to suit anyone and everyone.

What do we think? These lovely images really capture the essence of everyone you could want to buy a gift for as well as the occasion to go with it. Since Gifts.com sell such a large amount of products which are suited to all kinds of people, it's important that they provide their customers with a support mechanism like a Product Finder which helps users to narrow down their search.

5. For the special ladies in our life

Take me to the Gift Finder: Douglas Gift Finder

? Douglas

? The Beauty Specialists

Douglas is a German perfume and cosmetics retailer with around 35,000 products in more than 1900 stores across Europe.

What do we think? Buying cosmetics online can sometimes be a challenge since you can't test it or smell it. The Douglas Gift Finder deals with this issue well by asking the right amount of questions. They also use a slider feature for people to specify their age which is a pretty important factor when buying cosmetic products but also great for usability as users don't need to insert any free text.

6. And let's of course not forget the special men in our life

Take me to the Gift Finder: Whiskey Gift Finder

? The Whisky Exchange

? The Whisky Specialists

The Whisky Exchange is one of the largest online retailers of whiskey, advising and serving thousands of people their favorite tipple every week.

What do we think? This Gift Finder is clearly more suited to whiskey lovers since the questions are more focused towards those who know what they are talking about. The concept, however, is great, since it's always helpful to receive advice before you buy with more higher-end products like spirits and liqueurs.

So, how can online Gift Finders benefit my business?

  • Have an edge over your competitors
  • Improve user experience - customers no longer need to feel frustrated by having too many options or a lack of online support.
  • Make online shopping more fun - Gift Finders are interactive and engaging for customers, helping them to discover great product recommendations.
  • Reduce return rates - when people receive the perfect gift then there is no need to send it back.

Start building your concept and provide your customers with gift inspiration.

Learn more about Product Finders

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Providing great recommendations and product advice is no longer restricted to static knowledge models - instead, excentos combines guidance with artificial intelligence and learning algorithms. This creates the perfect mix of sales strategy into your Product Guide while adapting it to what your customers actually enjoy buying.

Many Guided Selling tools such as product advisors successfully "guide" the user through the product selection process. Firstly, they find out what the user requires and then recommend products that best fit to their specific needs. In most cases, product advisors exploit static knowledge models or use specific business rules in order to create and adapt to the recommendation behavior. Using this approach, the following advantages can arise:

  • experts can define and assure the quality of the recommendation behavior, so you have everything under control (everything falls in line with the sales and marketing strategy)
  • the recommendations can follow your sales strategy
  • merchandising functions and push factors such as upselling, avoiding stockout situations, highlighting products with higher margins etc. can be implemented

Learning Helps Improving Product Guides

Algorithms that can learn the recommendation behavior from usage data have the following advantages compared to static knowledge models:

  • ability to learn and adapt to buying trends e.g. changing trends in a fashion advisor or higher requirements for CPU power with evolving notebook technologies in a laptop advisor
  • filling the gap where it is not possible or inappropriate to define the recommendation behavior instead of letting the users set the preferencese.g. for preferred colors, price ranges, brands etc
  • less effort to (manually) define the knowledge model
  • learning about dependencies where there is no product data

Combine Guidance with Preference Learning

Recent innovations of the excentos Lab allow combining the advantages of artificial intelligence-based learning algorithms with the guided approach of quality-assured knowledge models. Guided Selling is no longer restricted to static knowledge models - instead, we've developed recommenders that incorporate both approaches into one great sales and marketing tool:

  • the basic recommendation behavior is still determined from a knowledge model-based approach. This ensures that certain quality criteria (e.g. a race bike must not be heavier than 10 kg) are met.
  • depending on the use case, we let the recommender learn from usage data, i.e. every user's input, every transaction and also contextual information such as a user viewed a product, clicked on its image and so on makes the recommendations smarter.

There are numerous advantages of combining controlled guidance with flexible learning:

" self-learning Guided Selling tools are drastically increasing efficiency since they allow to control the recommendation behavior, but at the same time flexibly learn from usage data and optimize the conversion rate"

Examples where self-optimizing recommendations are required and boost shopping experience

There are a lot of industries where only the combination of the two approaches can guarantee great recommendations and a convincing shopping experience:

  • fashion - e.g. make sure the right sizes are recommended to avoid unnecessary returns (knowledge model), and learn color/brand/style trends from usage data
  • gift finders - e.g. make sure the right categories are displayed to the user, but learn which products have the best conversion for which use case and age of the gift receiver
  • technical products - e.g. learn about the willingness to pay and typically accepted price ranges per target group, and learn which RAM size gamers like to buy for their laptop
  • sports - e.g. make sure a running shoe fits the user's training goals (knowledge model), but learn what colors and brands users buy
  • seasonal products - e.g. learn which products are bought around Easter or Christmas and make sure once Christmas is over, you don't stick to Christmas gifts only

Combine Learning With Guidance

Artificial Intelligence in Product Guides and recommender tools can significantly increase efficiency - however, they often lack appropriate expert knowledge and sales guidance. A combination of static expert knowledge models and self-optimizing recommendation behavior results in way more effective recommendations - so make sure your Product Guide supports both!

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These days, customers are flooded with masses of product information and promotions. In most purchase decisions, the choice is so overwhelming that they don't even know what to buy anymore.

To prevent customers from leaving your website dissatisfied, intelligent recommendation behavior helps you to create a personalized and user-friendly shopping experience. Displaying the right products or services to the right customers is not only key in terms of providing truly relevant content but is also the key to success in winning and retaining customers while also successfully engaging with them.

We are all familiar with the more conventional ways of trying to guide our customers through our e-commerce website. For example, 90% of all online shops have a faceted search engine or standard menu and category navigation bar. It's something a customer simply expects to see — but as e-commerce develops and retailers sell more online, customers require more advice and guidance.

Artificial intelligence is transforming retail to make online shopping more efficient and personalized with the help of predictive analytic tools and Guided Selling systems such as Product Guides and Digital Advisors.

In this blog post, we will go into:

  • Why conventional search systems such as faceted search engines don't quite make the cutin the advancing world of e-commerce
  • How you can discover whether your website or shop has suitable mechanisms in place to provide customers with good recommendations
  • The steps you can take to improve your shop's user experience and navigation
  • The latest kinds of recommender systems available to you on the market right now

Conventional search systems: Out of touch with your customers

The faceted search

Source: Sony

Unenticing and filled with technical detail which not every customer will be familiar with, this faceted search provides no assistance to customers who are unsure of what they need or want.

The faceted search is also a distant resemblance from how humans would naturally interact and converse since it is unable to advise customers on what product to buy.


Menu/category navigation

Source: Sony

Naturally, a must-have on any website, the menu/category navigation helps to filter out different kinds of products but is unable to advise any further. Once the user has said which kind of product they are looking for, they reach a dead-end.


What is a good recommendation?

It all starts with understanding your customers and being able to map out the customer journey from their perspective. This way you can fulfill the requirements of every individual customer and provide them with intelligent product recommendations which are relevant to them.

Technically, it is complex to achieve good recommendation behavior but if you take it down a level, you can think about it in a less-abstract manner. Imagine your most charming sales rep. from one of your stores. They know exactly how to transform any customer's requirements into valuable recommendations that the customer will most likely buy.

Good recommendation behavior means that products or solutions are displayed in a results list, presenting the most suitable products first. The products you recommend should not only suit the customer's individual needs but also support your company's sales and marketing strategy.

An overview and analysis of different kinds of product search and recommender systems and what they achieve.


Does my e-commerce site already provide good enough recommendations to my customers?

Check for H.A.C.K!

Human Factor

Does your e-commerce site mirror real-life human interaction and conversation?

For example, does a user feel like they are being provided with advice and guidance, despite shopping online and not in-store?

Analytics

Do you have any way of tracking the performance of your product search?

Can you extract useful data and analytics from it, which not only provides you with valuable consumer insights but also allows you to make strategic changes to your recommendation behavior?

Conversion

Are your customers converting?

Check whether important product features are highlighted. Are there a nice combination of product images and other content, such as: key facts, user reviews, several product images etc.? These factors can assist in pushing a customer to the cart since they create trust and demonstrate expertise.

How many products do you show? Do you provide customers with a personalized, comprised list or do you show as many product listings as possible leading them to become overwhelmed?

Knowledge

Do you have power over what recommendations you provide customers with?

Are you able to control which recommendations are relevant in which situation? Or is the recommender solely trained on past usage data?


Website with Guided Selling

Source: VAUDE Tent Adviser

Users don't need to search far and wide to find the most suitable products

Users with no prior knowledge about what they are looking for can be easily guided and advised

Users are presented with product explanations which inform them which products would suit their needs best and why

Users are provided with a comprised list which is personalized and only shows the most relevant recommendations


Website without Guided Selling

Source: North Face

    All products are mixed together so the user has to figure out which would suit their needs best

    Filters such as weight (lbs) and floor area (sq ft) are too specific and many users would not know what size or weight they require

    The order of the results list is not personalized to the individual user's needs


How do you build a Guided Selling recommendation system?


1. Brainstorm

  • Put yourself in the mind of your customer
  • Map out their shopping journey from when they enter your online shop until they reach the checkout
  • What information do they require when considering a purchase?
  • Consider the complexity of your product. If your products are more personal and less dependent on the specifics, you will require questions which focus more on personality traits and behavioral tendencies. It could be anything from fashion products, perfume, books, home and lifestyle products, toys — or maybe even holidays.

A tree diagram which maps out part of a customer's journey and possible thought process when buying a camera.


2. Apply

  • Apply this knowledge to create a question flow and product recommendations for your Product Guide
  • Include relevant attributes, such as personal requirements, which device type is appropriate to the user, sizing, price ranges, preferred brands etc.
  • Find a software company who can build your Product Guide. They will need to combine your consumer knowledge with your product data, in order to make a well-functioning guide which you can easily integrate into your website.

A completed Product Guide designed to advise people when buying a new camera


3. Track

  • Optimize your Product Guide with analytics tools and track your success
  • Find out which products people buy most with the Product Guide
  • Where do people click and where do they drop off?

Example of data sample taken from one day period of the Product Guide after going live. It shows intense usage with 16 actions per visit and a long visit duration with over 5 minutes


Transferring consumer insights into more personalized recommendations

Consumer insights extracted from Product Guides help companies with future targeting since the recommendations provide useful information, such as: purchase and returns history, preferred brands, size and measurements, preferred colors etc. This allows you to offer more personalization through cross-selling recommendations, more insightful email marketing campaigns and landing pages which provide relevant recommendations.

Cross-selling recommendations — the personal shopper you never had

Source: Asos

Personalized recommendations and styling advice calculated from the user's buying/browser history are great upselling features and allow you to showcase more products which your customer is bound to love.


Email Marketing

Source: Easyjet

Email marketing based on a customer's purchase history, browser history or user segment data is the ideal way to tempt customers back into your shop.


Landing Page Recommendations

Source: Samsung

Welcome new customers onto your website. Creating landing pages for popular products allows you to attract new customers and increase traffic to your shop.



Out with the old and in with the new; start building a modern recommender system today

Find out which suits your company's needs best

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