The U.S. furniture and home goods market is valued at over $100 billion, and growing, but there are over 25,000 businesses competing for a piece of that pie (source). Like many (most) retail categories, the percentage of sales that are happening on the web is growing, but the number of sales that involve the web is growing even faster.

Whether you’re an industry leader trying to protect marketshare or a challenger trying to grow your footprint, your ability to attract people to your site is vital. But if you want to avoid being another retailer’s virtual showroom, you need to build loyalty by creating shopping experiences that are personalized from beginning to end. You need to become a personal interior designer for every one of your customers.

Making it Personal

So how do you generalize about a category that includes everything from $1 kitchen towels to $10,000 loveseats, and has plenty of consumers who would buy both? You don’t. The old model of home goods marketing looked at matching product categories to audience segments, but the future lies in matching individual products to individual customers based on their behavior, rather than their demographics.

Many home goods, especially decor and furniture products are highly considered purchases. It’s something I’ll be seeing everyday and displaying to every guest I invite over. I may not be taking a direct line from product page to checkout… I’m going to browse, look at related products, maybe pin something to a Pinterest board, maybe look at other pinned products, put several options in my cart to come back to later, read reviews, delete items from my cart, then ultimately make a purchase.

As a retailer, every single step on that journey is a valuable datapoint. We can’t afford to just optimize for the “last mile” of the shopping experience (cart-to-credit-card)… we want more people engaging in more ways throughout that purchase funnel. Behavioral data helps us see beyond what she buys, to why she buys it, and ultimately—the holy grail—what she’ll fall in love with and buy next.

That’s all well and good if you had an army of talented design stylists who were also data analytics ninjas, but how do you become a personal interior decorator for thousands or millions of individual customers? The answer is machine learning. You rely on computers to do what they are really good at: rapidly uncovering complex patterns from huge amounts of data, and you use cutting edge algorithms to continually refine your understanding of each individual customer. Marketers that use machine learning have the ability to learn about each visitor on an individual level, create insights, and then act upon them, all automatically.

Personalization at Scale

If you’re familiar with marketing automation (and if you aren’t you should be!), you may have written “rules” that say things like “send this email to anyone who has items in their cart for more than 7 days.” That’s a great start, but imagine if your software was able to learn from each individual’s behavior and automatically and continually update and write its own rules about when to engage customers and what it engage them with. Sounds like the future right? Companies who use machine learning to optimize their customer communication can expect to see a 250 – 300% increase in engagement, and it can all happen automagically.

And personalization doesn’t have to end with your emails and push notifications. You can personalize the experience users have on your site as well. I’m not just talking about “people who bought x also liked y” recommendations, but rather customizing the content on your pages based on individual preferences and behaviors. (Do you think anyone else sees your Amazon homepage?) Even if your users are anonymous or not logged in, you can use dynamic elements on your pages to surface more relevant content based on their real-time, in-session behavior.

Connecting on a 1:1 Level

If I like your taste, you have my interest, if you can demonstrate that you get my taste, you have my full attention. When customers feel as if you’re speaking to them directly, as individuals, they are more likely to engage, respond, and in this case buy from you. As data driven personalization makes its way into more and more facets of our daily lives, customers expect that you get to know them and what they like. If you don’t, they’ll go to one of the 24,999+ other options that are available to them.

As a marketer in this category, now is a great time to put strategies in place that will enable to you to sustain and expand your market share even in the face of growing competition. Shift your focus to understanding why people purchase, and start capturing and exploiting the rich data you’re already generating.

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