The right technology strategy for modern retail


It is the end of the year. The holiday season. The moment of truth for many retailers and the technologists that work for them or have them as customers. Black Friday is over, the last-minute shopping is over. Now it is time to judge if you made book or not and plan for next year.

As a customer, I purchase a decreasing amount of things from “not Amazon,” and generally when I do it is because the retailer offers specialized expertise, service, or selection. The only other reason I generally buy elsewhere is because I need it “right now” and am willing to drive there to make that happen (generally, that means food). An informal poll of my friends reveals that I’m not alone.

So, retailers are both specializing and having to understand their customers better and develop a closer relationship with them. This means excellent in-store service but also excellent online service. Luckily, specialty retailers have a home-court advantage in both places.

Think about it: For personalized recommendations or targeted promotions, Amazon has to create a “general use” algorithm that works for all products all the time. Any tweak either has to be tested against all product lines or against a general subset. But a specialty retailer can work within “camping equipment” or “high-fashion clothing” or “automotive parts” and realize that just because you bought a car cover doesn’t mean you’re a “car cover enthusiast.”

). Moreover, modern algorithms (like ) smooth this to prevent more mentions overly boosting a result after a point.

Another key issue is “faceting,” or limiting search to a department or relevant category. This is especially important for retailers with many different departments or product lines. Often, the best customers know exactly what they want (“15-inch screen, i7 processor, at least 1TB storage”) and facets let them filter that search. There are other factors to consider in search relevance like phrases versus keywords, spelling, and synonyms.

for . You can also reverse that and find the best users likely to buy an item that you’re trying to unload.

Issue 4: Personalized home screen

Run your favorite web analytics on your retail site (or any internet site) and you’ll find that the front page is the highest-traffic page. This means that your best opportunity to grab the user is on the very first page of your site. What a retailer offers there should be heavily tailored to what a user is likely to buy.