How to use context to personalize online shopping with Shopify

I’m a runner. I’ve been running for years, but I don’t run for the same reason as most. I run so I can continue to eat the foods I like, and drink the wines I enjoy.

I live in a town called Ancaster, Ontario, Canada (about 40 minutes outside of Toronto). I’ve lived in this region my entire life, and consider it a great place to not only grow up, but a great place to raise a family.

We have four completely distinct seasons, with weather ranging from -40˚C in the winter to +40˚C in the summer. That’s a major difference in temperatures, and as a result, the type of running gear I wear during each of the seasons is very important.

Recently, I visited my local running shop to purchase a new running rain jacket that is somewhat insulated for colder, wet weather.

It’s a small local shop with an owner (Terry) that knows your name and greets you as you enter the store. I’ve been going there for years and have built up a friendly relationship with him.

As I enter, Terry says hello in his normal friendly manner and asks me how things are going.

I mentioned that I’m looking for a warm rain jacket. He immediately walks me around the store to a few items that would fit the bill. I try on the recommendations and purchase what is now my late fall rain jacket.

I didn’t even look around at other items in the store. Terry presented me with a curated personal experience, which lead to a sale. But more than that, Terry continued to build a connection with a loyal customer, which will lead to repeat business.

When a person is willing to understand context, it’s easy to create that experience. Terry knew the region, time of year, weather, and most importantly me, which offered him all of the information needed to present the best possible options.

Websites typically don’t have that understanding and/or willingness to serve you content that feels personalized. Just think about what the most prominent element of a website is: it’s the navigation. However, it’s your responsibility as a potential customer to direct your own course, and find what you need.

This experience can be challenging at best, and it’s one of the reasons we’ve seen fragmentation in marketing efforts. Just think about the last product you purchased online. It’s likely that you found that product from a post on Instagram, TikTok, or Pinterest. E-commerce stores have had to start promoting on an ever-growing list of platforms to get traction with their primary stores.

We believe this has to change. We also think there are things we can do to make the experience of interacting with our online stores better, which can lead to a more authentic, direct relationship with customers.

The dilemma

I constantly thought about how this experience could be transformed for online shoppers. Then on a trip with my business partners, we discussed this topic. We talked about it for hours, and created shared notes so we could document our thoughts and ideas, but in the end, returned home with more questions than answers. Questions like:

  1. What does personalization mean?
  2. Who would use a simple personalization tool?
  3. How could you segment customers?
  4. What data is available to create meaningful experiences?
  5. How can this be created in a way that any team could afford the solution?
  6. How can we be different from other tools?
  7. What platform should it be built on?
  8. And many, many more…

At first, the challenge seemed daunting, but it did feel like a product that needed to exist. After all, online shopping has only become more important in our lives, as we’ve discovered over the past few years.

Introducing Context

Well, after months of hard work, we’ve launched the product, and we’ve called it “Context”. It’s our take on an app created to help store owners and marketing managers personalize customer experiences.

This didn’t just happen. Our team put in countless hours to create a product that we feel solves a few major problems.

  1. Easy to create personalized experiences
  2. Doesn’t require developers to run it
  3. Can fit into most e-commerce budgets

How will it help your store

Context allows you to display the right content, products, and messaging, to the right customers, at the right time.

The power of Context lives in its rule engine. Rules allow you to display different content variations throughout the store to different people depending on the criteria you select. This could be a hero image, a rotating banner, a collection of products, or a combination of website elements.

We’ve launched with 4 sets of rules, but we’ll be adding more over the coming months. Think of these rules as a digital Terry.

  1. UTM parameters (Show specific content based on campaign parameters in the URL).
  2. Date range (Show content based on date range)
  3. Geographic location (Show content to customers from specific locations/regions)
  4. Weather (Show content based on current, or future weather conditions)
  5. Many more to come

How can the rules be used

All of these rules can be combined with each other in something we call recipes. Recipes are a collection of content variations and rules, and they’re tied together with analytics.

For example, you may want to display a promotion to customers from Toronto, Canada (geolocation rule) during the winter (date range rule) OR show a promotion to visitors from Seattle, Washington (geolocation rule) when the rain is forecasted in the next 7 days (weather rule).

The combinations are endless, and the customizations can be very powerful.

What’s next

While Terry had a relatively simple job to sell me a new rain jacket, he made me feel valued as a customer. It’s this type of personalized experience that differentiates a business from its competitors, which can be especially important in highly competitive markets.

Online sales require more explicit care in the delivery of products and messaging. Context is a step forward in that journey.

While we’re super excited and proud of what we’ve achieved, we still have more to do. We want to learn from our customers and understand what’s working, but more importantly, what’s not.

Please consider giving it a try, and if you feel up to it, please offer us some feedback. We’re all ears.

We hope you love it.

You can learn more about Context here.


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