The Year That Was: The Top Personalization Trends of 2016

Before we say goodbye to 2016, let's examine the most important personalization and optimization trends of the last 12 months.

Content Writer

If this year in martech could be summed up in just one word, it would be “personalization.” As adtech evolves to deliver hyperlocal marketing campaigns, marketers are realizing that personalizing the onsite experience is fundamental to driving conversions. Personalization, once a nascent technology and “nice to have” became a core strategy for eCommerce in 2016.

Retailers and now publishers place a premium on deploying automated, real-time personalization across desktops, mobile web, apps and email. It’s never been a more exciting time to be in this space as personalization technology is rapidly evolving to meet marketers’ insatiable demand.

Now that 2016 is basically in the books, let’s review the top four personalization and conversion optimization trends of the past 12 months.

1. Real-Time Personalization

Personalization is hardly a new concept in 2016. Every web retailer worth its salt claims to do at least some form of personalization. They store customer data from previous visits — the products they bought, those they just glanced it — and onboard it when that person comes back, showing them products and messages relevant to their past behavior. But what if the consumer’s past behavior doesn’t apply to the present visit? What if, for example, the visitor is not shopping for herself but looking for a present for another person? That’s where real-time personalization and machine learning comes in. It allows retailers to change the site and messaging in real time according to the user’s minute-to-minute onsite behavior. This technology keeps retailers from misapprehending the purpose of a consumer’s visit and sending her irrelevant information and offers.

2. Cross-Device Optimization

Let’s say a user starts her browsing and adding items to her cart on her mobile device while waiting for the bus to work. Once in the office, she may not continue shopping while the boss’s back is turned on her work desktop. If the retailer is cross-device optimized, all of the data from her mobile session will be onboarded and utilized for her desktop session. This means her cart will have the items she added on her phone and the product recommendations will draw on her behavior from that mobile shopping session. The only difference the user should notice between the phone and the desktop is the size of the screen.

3. Micro-Segmentation

Back when scientists first discovered the atom, they thought, This is it. We can’t possibly go smaller. And then they figured out how to split the atom and out came pouring all of these particles like leptons and bosons and other things that sound like peptic ulcer medications. The moral of the story: You can keep getting smaller. This is the lesson that marketers have learned over the past year when it comes to their audiences. They realized they can do better than “woman under the age of 30.” Based on data, retailers can divide users and into smaller, more useful groups of consumers and serve each cohort the most relevant products and information. Micro-segmenting users allows retailers to identify the most valuable consumers — the 5% that are driving more than 90% of a site’s revenue. A micro-segment, like a subatomic particle, can be very powerful.

4. Mobile Web Personalization

This might be the last trend on our list but it’s first in our hearts. Scarcely any discussion of eCommerce passed without some mention of the coming dominance of mobile and how marketers and retailers can close that oft-mentioned “mobile conversion gap.” It’s no surprise that everyone was focused on mobile this year: For the first time, Black Friday sales on mobile devices topped $1 billion. With all of the talk about mobile commerce, I bet desktop is feeling a bit like Jan Brady getting overshadowed by Marcia.

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With the surge in mobile sales, retailers need to double down on personalization technology and best practices for mobile web and apps. Though there are some limitations to the mobile UX — such as limited screen space, the greater likelihood of distraction — it is important for retailers to figure out how to personalize and for the small screen in order to keep users engaged.

Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive. One of the great pleasures of reading “best of” lists is feeling righteous indignation about what wasn’t included. If there is a trend you think we missed, leave it in the comments.