Buy once. Hounded forever
Have you ever noticed how after you search for and buy something online, ads for whatever you bought appear everywhere you go! I looked up a Bluetooth speaker on Google which led me to Amazon. Now that speaker follows me everywhere. It is on Facebook, watching me and judging me when I click play on that cat video. It’s on blogs that I go to read and on news sites. Just sitting there, expectant and creepy, like some sort of geeky horror movie. Attack of the Killer Bluetooth Speaker – Part 5 (Only $99.99 plus shipping!)
Even after you have already made your purchase, these ads still follow you around. I’d imagine it would be much worse if you made an ahem! extra sensitive search online and THOSE ads follow you around while your colleague was standing behind you, looking over your shoulder. Not that I have made any searches like that of course. It was just an example.
The problem with most targeted advertising and website personalisation is that it targets your past behaviour and your past actions. Behavioural targeting takes into consideration user behaviour (clicks and searches), social interactions (likes and shares), the item (description and price) and context (device and location). It then looks at your history and compiles a list of items based on what you have interacted with in the past.
I understand the rationale behind it. Companies want to show you what they think you are most interested in. But it is also uncomfortable and largely unproductive. My past behaviour does not necessarily determine my future actions. If I bought a speaker, I’m certainly not going to buy another one any time soon. Changing the brand and features is not going to help either. I’m not going to buy another speaker simply because it is of another brand.
This is not to say that behavioural targeting is all bad. I once experimented with ad blockers and privacy plugins, and all the ads went back to being fairly generic. I might do it again actually, but ads drive most of the Internet, keeping services I enjoy free. Personalisation done right is also a pretty good thing. Websites have a lot more tools now than they used to that tracks user behaviour. They can tell where a user navigates within a page, what he or she engages with the most, what special offers they hover over and which videos they click play on. All these metrics can be used to see whether a user is a “goal-oriented visitor” or a “browser”.
A goal-oriented visitor may come, get what he or she wants, and then leave. A browser will linger. Either of these users may be suggestible and there is methodology available to identify that. A visitor who takes time to go through deals and products and reviews is more suggestible than one who goes straight to the product, for instance. Users like these indicate that they are open to suggestions and willing to consider what the site is offering. Websites can use this to tailor recommendations and make the pages they visit highly personalised.
The same can be done with ads online. I don’t really want to see ads for things I have already bought or are no longer interested in. I’ve moved on. So should you. There’s no need to stalk me like some scary ex. In a way eBay does good with their emails. They send you recommendations similar to, but not exactly what, you have been searching for. Pinterest does it even better with recommendations that are different to what I have pinned, but similar enough to pique my interest. My next interest or next purchase may be only vaguely connected to my past behaviour.
Ads and recommendations and website personalisation should be looking at my future actions and not so much sticking to what I did in the past. This will keep me from getting bored and certainly help drive revenue in this uber-competitive e-commerce industry. Keeping things new will keep people interested.