By Sasha Siddhartha, Co-Founder and CTO of Thrive Market
The online shopping experience on many websites can feel like being dropped in the middle of a warehouse — especially for something like grocery where there are thousands of products to choose from. For a new member, knowing where to start can be a major hurdle.
For Thrive Market, this particular challenge actually presented itself as an opportunity for us to create a uniquely personalized introduction to the brand for our members. Providing personalized experiences from the start is part of the fabric of our brand and member experience. But, a similar approach – building a relationship through insight and personalization – can be used successfully by any similar business to create more engagement and more loyalty.
The new way to start a member journey
Unlike in-store where there are aisles and signs to guide the shopper, online shopping can sometimes be a daunting experience where it is tough to find the right products unless personalization is a priority. For grocery brands that are now faced with the reality that millions more people are open to online shopping for the long term, personalization can serve as a bridge that builds successful relationships with shoppers and keeps them coming back.
The guided shopping process helps the brand get to know the member right away, which in turn helps set up a continuously personalized experience; one that suddenly is much more relevant than anything a shopper would experience in a physical store.
Once on our website, the first-time visitor is immediately invited to take an interactive shopping quiz to help them find products perfectly suited for their individual needs; everything from questions about their preferences (household cleaning or snacks?) to dietary restrictions (keto or gluten-free?) and even about their lifestyle (vegan or paleo?).
Not only do the answers to the quiz help guide visitors to the best possible products (and often introduces them to new favorites!), it paves the way for a truly one-to-one personalized member experience for the entire lifetime of that shopper — across content, email, mobile, and the site.
Creating a deeply personalized experience
The concept of guided shopping isn’t new, but many ecommerce retailers are still missing a big opportunity here. While brands like Android to Brooks Running incorporate quizzes to help people find the right products somewhere on their site, building in personalization from the start of the member relationship is still relatively unusual.
At Thrive Market, we are thinking about personalization holistically. It’s the reason we’ve built a reputation around specialized member touchpoints and broken through in a highly competitive industry, including earning the second-place spot in Sailthru’s Retail Personalization Index of top-performing retailers this year. By starting with a question and guiding our visitors from the first visit, we learn more and can personalize more. In fact, our site and multichannel communication approach are built around it.
That’s because sometimes what you don’t send is just as important as what you do send. Imagine if a vegan shopper received a promotion for bone broth or beef jerky? Perfect for a paleo member, but a deal-breaker for someone that doesn’t eat meat.
And we don’t stop with our initial quiz, either. We learn more with each engagement, understanding what promotions the person reacted to in email newsletters, what content they engaged with on the site, and what items they searched for. These additional bits of information feed into the overall picture of each shopper, not only creating more accurate personalization but also opportunities for new engagements.
For example, if a favorite item is out of stock, a trigger can be set to inform a member when the item is available again. And if someone suddenly transitions to show interest in a keto lifestyle, a trigger can be set to share content about easy tips for a healthy, keto-friendly lifestyle.
Evolving to keep members engaged
Thrive Market isn’t planning its way out of our members’ lives. In fact, just the opposite – we now have an even greater focus on “humanizing” the online shopping experience. We won’t just share past purchases, but will also curate items and create personal recommendations of new products to surprise and add interest outside of the shopper’s immediate focus.
We have also implemented automated chatbots to solve frequent issues like order tracking so that people can get information quickly. This keeps them feeling good about their interactions with the brand, and leaves more time for the fun stuff, like browsing and reading about new products and the interesting stories behind their producers.
By automating the mundane details and making everything from search to returns extremely easy, we can remain focused on two-way communication through web chat, SMS and more — the touchpoints that are even more effective at increasing engagement.
Headed back into stores? No problem
Just over 3% of US grocery sales were online in early 2020, which exploded to over 10% of the entire grocery market by the end of the year – and projections for the coming years show a further increase.
This is a huge change in behavior that simply opens up the landscape of potential new members not only for us, but many DTC brands as well. We might have seen a spike in demand at the beginning of the pandemic for obvious reasons, but our sustained high engagement is truly a testament to taking a personalized approach and getting to know your members right from the start.
Because of the pandemic surge, most people are now familiar with online grocery shopping, not just early adopters. The same applies to other categories like luxury and auto that had been a more traditional brick and mortar experience only a year ago. Now more than ever, brands must recognize that their online experience serves as a core element to capturing the interest of visitors from the very first interaction and build on that initial engagement with personalization and creative content that makes sense for today’s shoppers.