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Let Us Tell You a Beautiful Story: The Rise of Visual Storytelling in E-Commerce Personalization

Posted on 8.07.2016

:: By Ohad Shperling, Personalics ::

In a highly crowded e-commerce space, vying for that oh-so-precious extra bit of consumer engagement is key. Personalized shopping recommendations have long been the norm for online shopping.

To gain a competitive advantage over mundane recommendation engines, leading retail brands are now automatically curating and presenting data-driven visual stories - visually appealing product recommendations, based on automatically curated personalized shopping journeys. These stories help propel shoppers through a beautiful experience leading to more meaningful and effective interactions - and ultimately more purchases. 

Personalization is not Enough: The Pitfalls of Standard Recommendations

Let's quickly consider the evolution of online shopping over the past two decades. Where once consumers would venture online in search of a specific product, visit brand websites and click through pages of static content, identical for all visitors, today’s online shopper has grown to expect more. They are inundated with sponsored personalized content, whether via recommendations based on past purchases and searches within shopping sites, or through various methods of omnichannel marketing (email newsletters, social media advertising, etc). The entire shopping dynamic has changed to a point where, at least when it comes to well-known brands, each consumer visits, in effect, their own personal online store.

Something's amiss though. While consumers benefit from being presented with products they're likely to be interested in, the sheer amount of options and the way these are shown might lead to a cluttered and eclectic experience. Even if each single product shown to the shopper may potentially interest them, when displayed together they fail to coalesce into a coherent whole, akin to a men’s clothing store stocking shoes, slacks, suits, and shorts on the same shelf. Look at the following image, clipped from a targeted email newsletter, and note how different-colored or shaped products, and products that serve different functions are grouped together. The end result is jarring, aesthetically unpleasant, and does not convey a cohesive brand image. 

Snippet from a targeted email newsletter from a leading online retailer. What do shoes, electronics, and gold coins (?!) have in common, other than being sold by a single retailer?

They've Been Doing it Forever: The Advantages of Brick-and-mortar Retail Merchandising

Now, let's take a look at the shopping experience at brick-and-mortar stores. Successful merchandisers have weathered the initial e-commerce storm and managed to grow by providing their customers a 360-degree, all-encompassing journey, from the moment they approach the store until they complete their transaction. These stores tell a logical story using their products. This is a story where each aisle leads to the next, and each shelf complements the one beside it; where products that function well together reside close to each other, and where window displays provide summaries of the most recent chapter. The merchandisers are humans using their judgment, taste, and experience to create a shelf display that's visually appealing, tells the brand story, strengthens brand affinity, and ultimately results in a purchase.

Dress clothes aisle of an upscale men’s clothing store. Note how shirts are meticulously arranged by color, and how the mannequins in the center convey the purpose of this aisle.

Visual Storytelling Online: The Best of Both Worlds

Which brings us back to online shopping, and the use of visual storytelling as a way to get the best of all worlds. Leading brands are breaking away from the pack by telling logical stories to their customers using data collected by recommendation and personalization engines, thereby bridging the experience gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping. By grouping similar looking products (e.g. same colored shoes, similar appearance of model and pose), “virtual store shelves,” serving the same purpose as their real-world counterparts, are created, making the whole store, as uniquely presented to each shopper, feel more coherent, and more in line with the brand story.

Snippet from personalized email newsletter for a leading clothing brand utilizing visual storytelling concepts. Note how the entire email includes products in similar monochromatic, black & white shades, with each “shelf” presenting a consistent story - with similar products, background colors, and model poses.

Best-in-class personalization solutions today use automated machine learning algorithms to create recommendations that incorporate Visual Storytelling. These “stories” are then embedded across all relevant channels, including retailer websites, email correspondence, and social media advertising, ensuring that consumers are constantly engaged as they follow their shopping journey. The benefits to this approach are many, as increased engagement leads to longer shopping sessions, to more upsell opportunities, and ultimately to an increase in lifetime shopper value.

Ask yourself: Which Email Screenshot is Similar to the Emails You’re Currently Sending?

More and more retail brands are relying on visual storytelling as a way to differentiate themselves and provide a better shopping experience to their customers, as well as a consistent and coherent brand representation across all channels and campaigns. By learning from decades of modern retail know-how and combining this knowledge with top of the line data-driven personalization, they make each shopper’s journey through their offerings more effective and productive, with measurable sales growth to show for it. Fortunately, today's personalization tools allow you to do just that. 

Ohad Shperling is the co-founder and CEO of Personalics, which helps brands identify users according to their specific demographic and behavioral analytics and target them with the right micro content.

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