The crux of the matter is that the e-Commerce website has to have the human touch of the human salesman. This is achieved through a process termed ‘personalization’. “Personalization technologies enable organizations to tailor the individuals’ Web experience to one’s preferences” (Payton, 2001). The essential thing to remember in this case is that there is no difference between customers on the Internet and customers in the real world. Customers go through the same sales cycle both in the real and the cyber world.
“Most marketers are familiar with the four stages of the customers’ buying process, around which marketing activities can be planned. The four stages are need-and-want recognition, information gathering, evaluation and purchase” (Sarner, 2007). The customer first feels the need or is motivated, then she or he looks for information on the product or services from different sources, evaluates the product or service from different providers and finally makes the purchase. An effective e-Commerce environment has to be customer centric.
Companies will seek to maximize customer loyalty and satisfaction by defining their business processes from the customer perspective (InSync 2000). It follows that all e-Commerce initiatives also have to be centered around the personal preferences of the customer. The e-commerce website has to be dynamic and intelligent enough to be able to provide the customer with the required information, support, guidance and incentive at all the stages of the sales cycle by employing much the same marketing techniques that are used by a real-world salesperson.
Personalization is done both implicitly and explicitly. In implicit personalization of an e-Commerce website information on potential customers is gathered on the basis of the browsing and Net habits of the customer. Small computer programs called ‘cookies’ are used to track the online habits of browsers. Other software then look for patterns in the online behavior in order to pinpoint the requirements or preferences of the browser. The individual is then fed information according to the inferences of the personalization programs. An e-Commerce website can do this in various ways.
It can send personalized emails to the emails with hyperlinks to its preferred product pages, it can create customized pages for exclusively for the individual and it can even pool in additional information and support to persuade the potential customer. Explicit personalization, on the other hand, is achieved through the direct involvement of the user. An individual can personalize a website for his own requirements, or the website can personalize itself to the needs of the individual on the basis of information provided explicitly by the individual.
Technically, personalization is done through Collaborative Filtering Techniques and Rule-based Filtering Techniques. In the former, the customer’s purchasing habits and browsing habits are analyzed along with the inputs she or he provides on personal preferences to create a profile based on which the e-Commerce site makes dynamic recommendations. Rule-based filtering technology, on the other hand, is based on logical interpretations of the answers to questions that the user is asked by the site. These analytical techniques are broadly termed as Data Mining.s