How to Leverage Data to Improve Personalization

Today’s customers expect brands to remember their likes and dislikes, which means personalization is table stakes, especially in e-commerce.  

Delivering a solid personalization experience starts by leveraging customer data to understand their needs and preferences and adjust the experience in real-time.  

Julie Penzotti, principal data scientist at Zulily, says the company collects more than 5 billion clickstream events of data every day. That data shows the company what items each customer is interested in, how long they spend shopping, and even what items they see but pass by. That treasure trove of data is used to create millions of versions of the website every day so that almost every Zulily customer has a unique version of the website that showcases products they are interested in.  

Penzotti says that approach works because Zulily knows its customers appreciate the convenience of quickly seeing items they are looking for and the fun of discovering products they might not realize they need.  

Penzotti says all companies can and should leverage data regardless of industry or size. Brands don’t have to jump into collecting billions of pieces of data every day. Penzotti recommends starting small with simple analytics. A deep exploratory data analysis can provide insights into customers’ preferences and buying patterns and highlight simple solutions that can impact customer experience.  

Zulily’s deep data analysis found that most of its customers are moms and often young moms with limited time. These customers only have short breaks in their days to shop, which means it takes multiple sessions for them to browse and make a purchase. Armed with that data and customer understanding, Zulily improved its experience to help shoppers browse over multiple sessions and adjust in real-time. Every time a customer comes back to continue shopping, their search results are more tailored and accurate.  

More advanced companies can leverage new technologies like computer vision and natural language processing to automate the data analytics and personalization approach. Zulily is developing systems to attribute style to clothing and home décor pieces and combine its image and language searching to help customers find the right items.  

No matter where a brand is right now, Penzotti says all brands can progressively get more sophisticated with data.  

Personalization has never been more important to customers. But brands have also never had as much access to customer data. Leveraging data and new technologies can help brands deliver amazing experiences that meet and exceed customer expectations.


Blake Morgan is the bestselling author of The Customer of the Future. Join the new Customer Experience Community here. 

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