Product recommendation best practices for brands selling replenishable products

To optimize digital experiences for users conducting repeat purchases, brands can tap product recommendations to do some of the heavy lifting.

Product Director, Dynamic Yield

With 37% of shoppers reporting they’re willing to spend more on products from brands they are loyal to, today’s retailers know the importance of customer acquisition. And as more businesses go digital, crafting memorable, consumer experiences in the crowded eCommerce space is imperative. Home to a number of sub-industries, those offering replenishable goods, or merchandise from any product categories that attract repeat purchase behavior, depend on customer loyalty.

Any business running a digital shop with replenishable products – be it pet food, beauty essentials, groceries, or baby products – is dealing with an entirely different shopping journey. When looking to increase conversion rates, shoppers spend little-to-no time in the discovery phase. The reality is, once a user has purchased a replenishable good, they will continue to restock their supply on a regular basis until they are given a reason to find an alternative (or no longer have a need for the product altogether). As a result, it’s up to marketers to identify product recommendation strategies that help both acquire new customers and expedite the path to purchase for returning ones.

Below, learn more about the customer journey for users seeking out replenishables and best practices for eCommerce teams deploying product recommendations on their sites

The unique consumer behavior of shopping for replenishable products

There are three major types of shoppers that businesses with replenishable products tailor experiences for:

  • New visitors: First-time site visitors considering a potential purchase
  • Returning site visitors: Users familiar with available merchandise that are still in the consideration phase
  • Returning buyers: Users returning to the site to complete a repeat purchase

Brands that offer this merchandise in their product catalogs often attribute a majority of their revenue to those who repeatedly purchase the same items over and over again. These users often have tunnel vision, arriving on an eCommerce site in search of the item(s) they know and love and nothing more. At the product level, users know what they are looking for – right down to the brand, size, and price. Efficiency and familiarity is the priority, not exploration.

But when dealing with first-time (new) or returning visitors, it’s up to the brand to identify behavioral cues that will help them better tailor the site experience. At the category level, brands looking to benefit from repeat purchase behavior or capture a sale from a returning site visitor should be attuned to user affinities. If a site visitor is always browsing or shopping for dog food, chances are they are not and will never be interested in cat food. As a result, the site experience should be adjusted accordingly. Similarly, users tend to develop brand loyalty. For pet owners, this may be to a certain brand of kibble, and for beauty enthusiasts, this may be to a line of products that suits their skin type.

Recommendation strategies for replenishable product retailers

It’s important to remember that while a majority of revenue may be driven by repeat purchases, most site visitors will never actually complete a purchase. That being said, the page a user first arrives on can be a major indicator of their interests and objectives. Each site page is conducive to different types of shopping behavior, and for shops relying on recommendations to surface relevant products, selecting the best strategy according to page context can boost bottom-line revenue for the long-term.

Homepage recommendation strategies

Users that arrive on the homepage are often the result of direct traffic – a user manually typing the brand’s website in the search bar, for example. They tend to be explicitly interested in specific items or the shop’s general merchandise due to past interactions with the brand or after a hearing about a product or the company. Depending on the user’s history with your brand, marketers should adjust their recommendation strategies to surface relevant products for these users directly on the homepage.

New users
If a new site visitor arrives on the homepage, surfacing the most popular products is a surefire way to expose them to items they may be interested in. Alternatively, if a user originally arrived on a product detail page (PDP) or a category page via an acquisition campaign before navigating to the homepage, leverage these signals to recommend products from the same category as the product displayed on their initial landing page. In the case of direct traffic, where marketers have no available data, display a mix of products from the most popular categories, increasing the likelihood of showcasing something that may be of interest.

homepage rec based on pdp engagement

Homepage recommendation widget displaying popular products in category based on user’s PDP interactions in the same session

Another strong strategy for these site visitors is to display sale items in recommendation widgets. Remember: the hardest part is convincing a new site visitor to complete their first purchase. Once they do, they are likely to come back and complete repeat or additional purchases in perpetuity.

Returning site visitor 
If a user who has never completed a purchase returns to your site, there is a strong indication that they are still interested in completing a purchase. Regardless of their traffic source, marketers should use the “Recently Viewed” strategy for homepage recommendation widgets to direct users back to where they left off.

And with some level of user data available on these users, consider testing the “Top in Category” strategy to display additional products the user has previously expressed an affinity toward.

Returning buyers
If a homepage visitor is a returning customer, the likelihood of them conducting a repeat purchase is high. Marketing teams looking to streamline the shopping experience for this audience, who is often in pursuit of stocking up on products they are running low on, should employ the “Recently Purchased” recommendation strategy for homepage widgets.

That being said, there is still an opportunity to cross-sell these customers using either the “Purchased with Recently Purchased” strategy or the “Most Popular in Category” recommendation strategy for users with an affinity for a particular product category.

homepage rec affinities

Homepage recommendation widget displaying products based on a customer’s affinities

Product detail page recommendation strategies

If a user arrives on a PDP, marketers have at minimum one signal about a user’s interests. Their history of interactions with the site, however, will indicate which strategy to use for different types of product page visitors.

New visitors
New users generally have lower purchase intent than returning visitors or customers. As a result, recommendations on PDPs for this audience should facilitate product discovery. Since the user has expressed interest in the product – and therefore, the product category – use either the “Viewed Together” or “Most Popular in Category” recommendation strategies to surface other relevant merchandise.

Another strategy to consider for these page visitors is recommending items on sale. Because they are not an existing customer, they may be in search of an alternative to a product they regularly purchase elsewhere or have had a life change necessitating the need to now buy a replenishable (i.e. new mothers buying diapers, a new pet owner buying dog food). Enticing them with a low sticker price is a great way to capture conversions, simultaneously increasing their likelihood to explore additional products.

When a new user arrives directly on a PDP, their action (e.g. clicking on a product ad) and expressed interest in a particular product is a signal of intent, even if the product in view may not be exactly what they are looking for. Therefore, using the “Similarity” strategy, recommend alternatives directly on the product page to keep these users engaged and direct them toward additional, relevant products.

pdp recommendations

PDP recommendation widget displaying similar products to product in view

Finally, consider running a test using cross-category recommendations. For example, if a user has expressed interest in a large product category, such as fish food, test the placement of a recommendation widget featuring items in a sub-category, such as fish bowls or cleaning supplies, to increase their order value within the same session.

Returning site visitors
Users that have yet to conduct a purchase and return to a PDP are likely in the research phase or were lured back via a retention campaign (i.e. social media ad, triggered email, etc.). Directing users back to the items they were browsing is an industry best practice, and marketers can enlist the “Recently Viewed” and “Similar to Recently Viewed” recommendation strategies for PDP widgets.

PDP recommendation widget for returning users based on past site interactions

Returning buyers
Catering to the interests of returning customers can be a bit complicated. When a user is attempting to complete a purchase, marketers should aim to reduce friction at all costs, ensuring they do not compromise a potential sale. Rather than distracting them with similar products and causing them to rethink a purchase decision, focus on increasing their cart sizes.

Try recommending products often bought together or in bundles to upsell them. Another way is to encourage bulk purchases, recommending larger sizes or quantities of a product (i.e. a family pack of sunscreen instead of a single bottle).

pdp reccomplementary products

PDP recommendation widget displaying complementary products to the item in view

Start leveraging product recommendations for replenishables

When tailoring the shopping experience, there is never a single best strategy. Each site visitor has their own unique preferences, histories, and behaviors, and it’s up to marketers to identify which strategies to leverage for each campaign. Being aware of how consumers shop for replenishable products – one-time purchases vs. repeat purchase – is just the tip of the iceberg. For true, long-term success, marketing teams need to experiment and refine campaign strategies, tap product recommendations, and use these best practices as guidance along the way.