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Have you ever visited a stranger and instantly felt at home? The same is possible for first-time visitors to your retail website. Though deep personalization hinges on data, retailers can do a lot to deliver compelling, made-for-me experiences that will sway first-timers to stay and come back for more.

Though you’re just getting acquainted, new visitors bring useful bits of intel as they land on your digital doorstep. Retail marketers can leverage those bits to deliver a warm welcome, facilitate a smooth visit and capture insights to begin building a relationship.

Referencing source of visit to add context to your welcome series

For starters, you can discern two valuable data points about your new visitor: that it’s their first visit, and their visit source. Like a gracious host welcoming a friend-of-a-friend to your home, you’d naturally reference what brought them to you. Similarly, if you know a visitor came from a certain channel or media campaign, it’s smart to keep messaging consistent, alluding to elements that interested them enough to swing by for a visit.

You might also leverage that referral source to nudge your new visitor to share personal info. “Let’s say I clicked on an Instagram ad associated with a brand or influencer I admire,” explained Monica Deretich, retail industry advisor to Sailthru. “A sign-up form might pop up referencing that brand or influencer, enticing me to sign up for updates relevant to what brought me to the site.”

RevZilla, an online motorcycle-gear retailer, has 12 different welcome series iterations based on riding styles and brand preferences. The templates are configured to appeal to each individual customer’s preference while also providing them with the standard welcome experience — a strategy that has shown a 39% increase in revenue year over year.

Google analysts point out that plenty of contextual data that’s easily accessible often gets overlooked: geolocation, date, time, weather, holidays, live sports results or the content of your own page, for instance. Retail marketers can draw from contextual signals to talk to new visitors in a way that feels relevant and timely.

Getting a second date with leads after the first visit

Though we’d love for every user to share contact info on their first visit, that’s not realistic. When that doesn’t happen, you can facilitate a reconnection with first-party cookies: data insights you captured during their first visit. Through first-party cookies, user behavior and affinities are stored and available for personalization when that user returns and signs up to receive emails.

eCommerce fashion rental company, Rent the Runway does this well. Their marketing team uses cross-channel orchestration platform, Marigold Engage by Sailthru to discern user interest by occasion type, such as attending a wedding or going on vacation. Rent the Runway then uses cookies data to tailor communications on their website, app and email welcome series. This ensures messaging is relevant to what the customer is interested in.

Giving new relationships the best chance to grow

Users are typically added to your email list in one of two ways: when they subscribe to email updates or when they make a first purchase. Consider our fictional customers Beth and Kate: Beth signed up for emails, and Kate just made her first purchase. Both should receive a welcome email as part of their onboarding, Deretich said. And yet, messaging should differ based on their past actions and next steps in the relationship.

Naturally, you’ll have more data on Kate, the paying customer, to facilitate personalization. You’d thank Kate for her purchase and possibly invite her to indicate her preferences, complete steps for loyalty points or follow your social media channels while her order is processed.

With Beth, you’d thank her for signing up and encourage a first purchase. You could further tailor your message based on her referral source or the area of the website where she subscribed. “Let’s say Beth signed up via an ad focused on a resort collection,” Deretich explained: “That information can be used dynamically to include products from that collection.”

In any case, it’s important to ask users about their preferences early and often —  take Thrive Market for example. The online grocery retailer has new customers complete a thorough onboarding quiz, which includes dietary specifications and brand preferences, in order to help personalize all communications from the very beginning — a practice that enriches both the customer experience and the company’s bottom line. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of consumers feel that sharing detailed personal preferences helps when used to curate personalized experiences and offers, and 80% of retailers saw a lift in sales after implementing personalization, Accenture reported.

Cultivating lasting relationships and lifetime value

Far from a one-and-done exercise, efficient nurture and data collection should consider where each user stands in their customer lifecycle. To that end, zero-party data — personal info that users share intentionally with retailers — can fuel tremendous growth and retention if used properly. The combination of explicitly provided customer data and implicit site, mobile app, and email behavioral data empowers marketers to harness real-time, predictive, and omnichannel experiences. Achieving these data-informed marketing experiences can produce a 20% lift in customer lifetime value, extrapolated from Marigold Engage by Sailthru’s customer data.

On the flip side, that information can become stagnant, Deretich cautioned: “Personalization isn’t a box that is checked and completed. It must be iterated, optimized, challenged. Marketers need to integrate it into various stages of the customer lifecycle to keep it fresh and relevant.”

Take Sephora, for instance. The beauty retailer offers a choice of free mini product sets as birthday gifts to registered users. The practice gives Sephora a wealth of useful insights: first and last name, birth date, product preferences. Through its loyalty program, Sephora also follows what products customers are browsing or buying over time, and when they might run out of a past purchase.

When consumers ditch a cart or website, there’s still plenty to be learned. Personalization triggers such as cart and browser abandonment help retailers home in on a high-intent shopper mindset. “There are ways to do this dynamically at scale using a tool like Marigold Engage by Sailthru,” Deretich shared. “As a marketer, I love any wins I can gain with little to no tech development.”

Discerning next steps

High-performing personalization doesn’t have to be costly or complex. Creating individualized experiences is increasingly affordable, McKinsey reported. For marketers new to or early in their marketing personalization advancements, Deretich has three recommendations for a strong start: (1) Assess the available sources of explicit and implicitly provided data from your audience; (2) define use cases to support key customer-centric initiatives, such as a contextual welcome series or a cross-channel post-purchase flow; and (3) work with a solution that is both an effective platform and proactive strategic partner.

Consumers don’t just want personalization — they demand it, and the stakes of getting it right (or wrong) are multiplying, warn researchers. For retailers prioritizing personalization at scale, it’s a force multiplier, turning strangers into loyalists and fueling sustained revenue growth