What kind of image pops up in your mind when you hear ‘Online Shopper’?
Whatever your answer may be. It's crystal clear that your average online shopper comes looking for one of two things.
They’re looking for a product that fulfils their specific needs or,
are in search of a product that’ll solve a problem.
While they want products of their choice to solve a problem, they usually don't want to go beyond scratching the surface.
Enter product recommendations.
Consider them to be able assistants to your product listing pages and product pages. But why do they work so well? What in the consumer psyche makes them so relevant? And what could be done further to increase their capacity in creating conversions?
To explore these crucial questions, in this post, we'll be covering the following sections -
Product Recommendations: Strategies, Examples, Do's/Don'ts
What are product recommendations?
Product recommendations form the core of personalization strategies used by eCommerce brands.
By displaying relevant information to users, recommendations nudge them to take a specific action resulting in a win-win situation for the customer and the eCommerce brand. (Apart from a great product page of course. Here's an expert piece on Shopify product page templates you might love to read.)
The information is gathered based on their distinct needs, interests, and buying habits.
What types of product recommendations exist?
There are a number of ways to bring out the most relevant product recommendations for shoppers.
We’ve picked 10 ways you can make your recommendations come alive.
1. Make use of similarities (Collaborative filtering)
Collaborative filtering makes product recommendations by grouping items that may be liked by users based on preferences by similar groups of users.
It collects key data points such as user behavior, activities, and interests.
This kind of product recommendation uses collaborative filtering which further has two sub-types -
- Decide through similar tastes (User-User collaborative filtering)
Product recommendations based on each set of user behaviors that are either identical or similar is called User-User collaborative filtering.
Ikea offers “You might like” product recommendations based on the purchases made by a lookalike audience.
The ratings serve as social proof. With the use of “Last Chance to buy”, there is a sense of curiosity to check the product.
Finally, it creates an urgency to react.
- Let items be the common factor (Item-Item collaborative filtering)
Item-item collaborative filtering is similar to its predecessor albeit with a difference. Instead of user-user lookalikes, it looks for item lookalikes.
This means it looks for users who bought additional items and finds its corresponding lookalike.
JCPenney recommends products based on item lookalikes under “Customers also bought”.
Humans are social beings who seek validation. When they see people similar to themselves buying products, it incites a need to take a look at the products. That’s why trends rule. That’s why people would rather buy what others have bought.
2. Content leads the way (Content-based filtering)
Product recommendations based on content such as browsing history, purchases made, downloads, items added to cart, ratings, and the like are content-based filtering.
Here is an example of a browsing history recommendation by Amazon.
Humans spend time researching and contemplating buying items owing to too many options, risk-aversion, and pricing.
Browsing history can help you win customers because of last-minute impulsive purchases.
3. Best of both worlds (Hybrid recommendation system)
No brownie points for guessing this one!
By combining collaborative filtering and content-based filtering, product recommendations can be further accurate and powerful.
It can be done by making collaborative filtering and content-based recommendations in isolation and then merging them.
4. Flash your Bestsellers
What can be better than showing your products selling like hot cakes?
Levi’s leads the way by displaying its bestsellers on its website.
Humans love vanity and want to be popular and recommended.
Since clothes dictate your personal style, best sellers drive conversions well.
Are you struggling with low conversions on your product pages? Why your eCommerce Product Page isn't converting (+ proven hacks) could be just the right read for you.
5. Open with a convincing statement
For a fashion-crazy audience, a wardrobe that supports the way they prefer to look is non-negotiable.
Adidas nudges its users to add items to the cart which complement the shoe they’re currently looking at.
People like to dress up and by offering items that go well with a product, you’re piquing their curiosity to upgrade their wardrobe.
6. Make heads turn (display new arrivals)
New products always drive excitement and can help create a heightened sense of curiosity.
Sephora displays its new arrivals below the fold. With messages like “Online only”, “only at Sephora”, and “limited edition”, it is creating a sense of urgency.
On average, women in the US use 67% more cosmetics than men in a week.
Since women are more conscious, they certainly want to buy products that promise to be evolving.
This is a great example of persuasion you can follow.
7. Cross-sell without being pushy
Here’s an out-of-the-box method to cross-sell without being spammy or pushy.
Macy’s cross-sells by displaying complementary items under “Wear It With”.
What makes it good is it doesn’t come across as obvious and fake.
This product recommendation follows a “pull” approach where customers discover the product while scrolling.
This draws the user’s attention thereby increasing the chances of a higher AOV.
8. Offer deals that promise savings
What’s the best way to win customers?
Offer deals that promise savings.
FreshDirect offers “Fresh Deals” where customers get to save big on seasonal items and favorite brands.
Perishable items don’t last long. Since fresh vegetables and fruits are a basic commodity, the word Fresh is enough to attain clicks.
Deals on seasonal items and favorite brands always pull audiences a click closer to a purchase.
9. Suggest tailor-made offerings
Tailor-made product recommendations during checkout have a lasting impact on customer buying behavior.
Decathlon offers product recommendations based on the preferences of the customer such as height and color.
It kindles a sense of personal touch because it demonstrates attention to detail.
(Speaking of attention to detail, reading this intensive piece on product page UX could give you some bright ideas.)
This is an often overlooked ability when it comes to personalization.
10. Leverage complementary items
Items that complement each other help in increasing your Average Order Value(AOV).
For the customer, they make the buying journey easier and more seamless.
Here’s an Amazon product recommendation that shows a food weighing scale and measuring spoons/cups which are complementary items.
In most cases, items by themselves aren’t effective as they are with a complimentary item.
Customers want to avoid buyer’s remorse, hence “Frequently bought together” increases your Average Order Value.
4 Ways to Match Consumer Expectations with Product Recommendations
1. Make it easy for shoppers to purchase
With eCommerce becoming a super easy playing field for quick purchases, customers now naturally feel entitled to the ease of buying.
And this isn’t just limited to those who exactly know what they want in their cart.
It’s also equally for those who may only remotely know what your brand is about and land up on your store to browse.
Making it easy for a shopper to discover new products and eventually make a purchase, is the ideal scenario.
Here’s how Allbirds does it.
Whether it’s on the homepage where they entice shoppers old and new with “New Arrivals”, or suggestions specifically meant for the product page (with “Frequently Viewed Together”), the brand constantly shows the way for shoppers to take their next action.
2. Help shoppers discover products of liking
This is a factor that finds relevance in every kind of audience, no matter how aware they are about your brand or a specific product in question.
No matter what the intent, every shopper would like to enjoy the ease of discovery.
And this applies across all the vital pages on an eCommerce website - the homepage, the category pages, the product pages and even the checkout.
Product recommendations, especially the more personalized ones, ensure a shopper experiences convenience of discovery without having to put in any hard work themselves.
This is also a win-win for a business because through recommendations, they can expose their audiences to a greater number of categories and products in their eStore.
Bring certain top category sections upfront through display and design, and you’re all set.
Covergirl, the cosmetics brand, lays special stress on the convenience of discovery.
This is especially true for those who may never have experienced the brand before but find themselves browsing the brand’s eStore.
Not only does Covergirl showcase a “Shop Best Sellers” section the moment you land on their homepage, they also feature a separate “Best Sellers” tab on their primary navigation menu.
Make your audiences discover gold through the right filtering strategy. Read 10 smart ideas to improve eCommerce filters (and 7 lessons from Amazon)
3. Give them the same experience across channels
Think from the typical eCommerce shopper’s shoes and you’ll notice the obvious: everyone is looking for a seamless and immersive experience spanning online and offline channels.
An effective omnichannel experience contributes to multiple critical things -
- Eases browsing and buying
- Makes it easier to collect and track data in detail
- Improves customer support
- Integrates various parts of the business
So an omnichannel experience is a driving factor for both consumers and businesses.
The more a business is able to align their business offerings across channels with customer preferences and evolving intent, the more shoppers will want to come back and re-engage.
Personalization in the form of product recommendations based on browsing and purchase history and personal profile, becomes a natural outcome of an omnichannel approach.
So it’s not enough that a customer can access various channels to engage with a brand - no matter which channel they switch to, their order history and potential purchase choices must follow them.
A great eCommerce example in this regard is Under Armour.
It is a brand that began as a domestic wholesale apparel company, but has now revamped into being a modern omni-channel expert retail giant.
Their ArmourBox subscription service exemplifies how product recommendations can be deeply personalized.
All that the customer needs to do is go online and fill in some details about their training schedule, their favorite shoe style and what kind of fitness goals they have.
From the business side, an Under Armour stylist then personally sees to it that the box reflects the preferences of its recipient.
4. Make all brand interactions meaningful
eCommerce is at a stage of evolution where brands need to keep up with all that they promise.
No matter which category you do business in, your customers are looking to be assured, delighted, (pleasantly) surprised and have their promises kept.
And this is why, if you’re able to weave in the right kind of recommendations, it is bound to reflect in the way a shopper experiences your brand.
From a business angle this makes immense sense - statistics prove that 82% businesses agree on finding it easier to retain customers compared to finding new ones.
This means the argument is clear - the smarter you work to create a smooth, glitch-free engagement and purchase environment, the higher the chances your existing customers will be a happy lot.
And product recommendations, done right, can come in handy.
Bellroy is a brand that creates unmatched interaction possibilities every step of the way.
One visit to their website and you’ll know how helpful (and interesting) they make it for browsers to cover different categories and products
Here’s a glimpse of how even while recommending products, they go the extra mile to enhance brand interaction.
Notice how they’ve neatly packaged the recommendations within the existing layout of the current product. Also, notice how they’ve enhanced them with copy highlights that are bound to pique the interest of shoppers.
5 Ways You Can Use Product Recommendations To Improve the Shopping Experience
1. Make shoppers feel like their preferences matter
Shoppers choose one eCommerce brand over another for various reasons.
It could be that the chosen one has better products, more refined customer service, better post-sales offers or an omnichannel experience worth talking about.
However, underlying these reasons is a simpler reason - the customer returns because they feel more valued, in one way or another.
This is exactly what you can hope to do more of when you start personalizing your product recommendations more and more.
Just like fashion brand Asos does.
When we looked for plus size clothing, we found that the brand personalizes their recommendations enough to return suggestions in the same category.
Notice how in our example, the first three recommendations all fall under “Plus Size”.
2. Offer social proof to drive consumer confidence
In its most desirable state, eCommerce is about choice.
However, for customers, it can be about confusion as well.
This is especially true for shoppers who either don’t know what can solve their problem or does not have experience with a brand or feels so inundated with choice, that they may need slight nudges in the right direction to move forward.
Social proof is often a good reason why a shopper will continue to engage with a brand, and in the best case scenario, even choose to buy from it.
So, go ahead, and offer it.
Product recommendations can be a great source of social proof, especially if you know how to plug the feature in.
In the following example, Cuvee Coffee showcases the number of ratings and reviews a recommended product has got in the product recommendation section.
Covenant Health Products, on the other hand, does this a little more subtly, by displaying a dynamic banner filled with client logos right beneath their product recommendation section.
3. Offer timely choices based on personal/likely preferences
No customer minds a good bargain. In fact, many of them browse brands around their category of choice simply to land a good deal.
And this isn’t just about seasonal sales and festive occasions.
Serve up a few really good deals around the year, and many recreational browsers will eventually convert.
The good news is that product recommendations can amplify this effect. For example, a fashion brand decides to declare a sale on select products.
Since it’s not a sitewide sale, it’s not obvious that a shopper will land on a discounted product they would likely buy.
In this situation, the product recommendation feature can bring to their notice those discounted products that they may prefer based on their purchase and browsing history as well as customer profile.
Here’s how Bulk Apothecary approaches their product recommendations.
Under “Related Products”, they have two products that are considerably lower in price.
Both the products are clearly complementary to the main product featured on the page - an aromatherapy starter kit.
This makes it even more likely for shoppers to want to add an extra product at a marginal cost.
4. Create a pathway for consumers to explore
Let’s pause for a second and reflect on why eCommerce shoppers like personalization in the first place.
It’s simpler than we think.
Often personalization is treated synonymously with being treated in a special way, but the primary reasoning is more basic than that.
People like to make the right decisions - or make the decisions that are closest to what they consider is right or perfect.
And that’s where product recommendations can be so helpful. In a crowd of choices, options as well as decisions to be made, recommendations simplify life.
To the potential customer, they essentially say, “Sit back and relax, we’ve got for you what you would’ve picked for yourself.”
What Sephora does to deepen the personalization in their product recommendations, is a great example. Their recommendation engines are clearly working hard to keep track of previous purchases and what products one may have browsed before.
So when they bring forth a “Chosen For You” section, you can be rest assured it covers a gamut of brands and a variety of products.
5. Create a sustained promise of shopping satisfaction
The most successful eCommerce brands have one thing in common - they make people want to come back, and as a result sell more, and as a further result, stick to people’s minds.
Now if you think about it, you’ll figure that personalization has got a lot to do with it.
And within the spectrum of personalization, product recommendations have a huge role to play.
Let’s say a customer experiences the effectiveness of product recommendations on your site, finds something they want to buy immediately, adds to cart and gets informed their purchase will be dispatched soon.
The first two things that will create an impact for the customer in this instance are ease and speed.
And what’s most likely to happen is that they will come back for another purchase in the near future.
Sustaining shopping satisfaction is a major eCommerce goal because of one BIG reason.
The amount of effort a business has to expend to get a new customer is more than it is to retain an already existing customer.
And this makes sustained shopping satisfaction indispensable. (Alex Schultz, the former vice president of growth is often remembered for stating that if a business can get 20% to 30% customers coming back every month for a purchase, then they will do really well.)
LeSportSac, for example, throws up recommendations highlighting “sale”, “new” and “collaboration” to highlight products across price points.
This is a good move because it offers the target audience to explore more products based on what their intent of shopping is.
And because it eventually gets so specific, there’s a high chance that a shopper ends up buying something (and also considering the brand for future purchases.
(Keen to help your audiences steer clear of choice paralysis? Read this piece.)
5 Product Recommendation Strategies & Examples for Inspiration
1. Go deeper into signals of interest
There’s a lot that can be read from real-time shopper activity. Purchase behavior is a generic term for assessing a host of purchase decisions.
It’s not just about what a customer bought across many different purchases - it’s also broken down into what their immediately last purchase was about, what they bought recently right before, what they may have paired with what in their last purchase as well as those right before and what they viewed over the last purchase and other recent ones.
When you go deeper into signals of interest like this, the greater is the likelihood that you can mine the data to come up with even sharper recommendations in the future.
Here’s a look at how Zalando does it. Notice how they introduce three different sections to entice the customer into looking at possibly preferred products across different categories.
Specifically, they induce interest by using copy effectively - “how about these?”, “winter vacation” and “better together” are all means to an end - for the customer to think in different directions and then to come to a purchase conclusion.
2. Capture the imagination of explorative shoppers
You’ll have multiple kinds of people visiting your eCommerce store.
Some will exactly know what they’re looking for and head right where they are likely to find a preferred product.
Some come over intent on research and are likely taking stock of similar products across various eCommerce stores within the same category.
And some others are just browsing out of interest - they may be bored, may have heard about your brand or may have seen your store coming up as a result of something they searched for.
The last of these kinds has a good chance of becoming repeat customers if you know how to keep them engaged on their first few visits.
How you spread recommendations across your site, across various pages and also across channels, can become crucial.
Ikea does this effortlessly across their eStore.
They start with their homepage and continue beyond, deeper into the categories as a new visitor explores them.
In our examples from Ikea, we decided we’ll explore “workspace essentials” and found a recommendation section to “upgrade your workspace” and another called “find the lunch box you love”.
What’s the takeaway? When you showcase a category, ensure you take the customer deeper into relevant sub-categories.
3. Present categories similar to the one being browsed
Contrary to what we said in the previous point, what also holds merit is to help shoppers explore more of a specific category.
Let’s say, they’re looking for bedroom furniture. Instead of showing related products like wall accessories or door and window furnishings, you could cull out more bedroom furniture options.
Here’s a quick look at what fashion brand Missguided does.
It captures the vocabulary of audiences likely to prefer a brand like Missguided.
Alongside, they also make sure a new shopper feels boosted by what fellow shoppers are searching for (thereby creating instant social proof).
4. Deepen affinity-based suggestions
One of the most personalized ways to showcase product recommendations is to take user affinities into consideration.
Affinity-based suggestions can especially be fruitful for those who are already at the “awareness” stage of the purchase funnel.
Shoppers at the awareness stage are clear about what they want and why they want it.
So, as a business, if you’re able to narrow down on options that may likely solve problems across different parts of their lives, then it’s a win-win.
How a shopper interacts with a product or business, is the first stage of gathering affinity-based data.
Interactions can span across the kind of products they’re viewing, what they are reviewing, what questions they are asking and what they are adding to cart.
One brand that takes its affinity based suggestions seriously is 100% Pure.
For example, when we displayed interest in a restorative overnight balm, they threw up other options like an eye cream, a vitamin C serum and an anti-oxidants PM serum.
The affinity that they have clearly picked up is that the person who is looking for an overnight balm is essentially looking for options to improve their nightly skin routine.
This attribute has helped bring about the other suggestions.
5. Create more engagement with wishlist recommendations
A feature that’s integral to eCommerce sales and engagement but is often left out of conversations is the wishlist.
And why not - it’s a tiny feature tucked away next to the “add to cart” button and not often viewed by people who aren’t serious about purchasing a product later.
But we tend to disagree, because the eCommerce wishlist has immense potential.
Here are a few crucial reasons why bringing wishlist recommendations may be helpful.
- To communicate price drops
- To inform about specific brand sales & discounts
- To declare a wishlist product as “fast selling” if it’s selling well (and create a sense of urgency in the process)
- To announce promos around wishlist products
- To inform when a wishlist product is low on stock/ is back in stock
All of these instances make the wishlist a fertile ground for purchase action. And it’s for the same reason that wishlist recommendations can wheel shoppers back in. One brand that follows up on email with wishlist recommendations is Missguided.
The emails stay relevant and feature super specific content, making them easy to be viewed and understood.
4 Best Practices to Elevate Your Product Recommendations
1. Prioritize the kind of images you use
In the absence of a brick-and-mortar store, what shoppers can access readily on an eCommerce store are product images.
While product page images are often touted as the most important, product recommendation images are no less.
Clear, engaging images of suggested products increase the chances of shoppers wanting to click and get onto the specific product pages.
This is the first step of successfully convincing shoppers to look more deeply into a product.
And this is why product recommendations are a lot about quality photography.
One brand we admire for this aspect is Gymshark.
The images they use have consistent poses, apply similar background and reveal effortless athleticism and comfort.
2. Use relevant pop-ups to draw attention
It’s not necessary that your product recommendations feature only at the end of product pages.
They are after all slight nudges that shoppers can do with during any part of their journey - provided you do them well (read: in service of the shopper’s intent.)
One way of drawing a shopper’s attention is to show them pop-ups featuring recommendations.
There are many ways to do this, including featuring a special discount on products they may have added to cart and not yet bought or viewed but not added to cart.
In the following example, Ruroc shows us how it’s possible to wheel back in shoppers who are visiting the site again after a brief spell.
Instead of a simple “welcome back”, the brand chooses to display relevant recommendations based on past user behavior.
Keen to know more on how you can leverage exit-intent pop-ups? Read Exit-Intent Pop-Ups: overcoming common mistakes + 20 brilliant examples
3. Present fewer, more specific recommendations
While it may seem like a rehashed strategy, great product recommendations are seldom about excess.
The point is not to offer a shopper so many suggestions that they feel crippled by the deluge of choices.
And this is why presenting fewer, more specific recommendations is usually the way to go.
In the Nordstrom example we’ve picked, alongside the main product on the product page, the brand suggests only four options.
This makes it less tiresome for shoppers to view and explore the individual products, while keeping the suggestions within their chosen spectrum.
4. Create a dedicated, predictable space for recommendations
There’s a reason why good CX is about making navigation predictable for customers.
It’s not very different for product recommendations and how you choose to display them.
Only one aspect has to do with whether the recommendations are available within ready view or not.
The more important consideration is whether customers will find it at a predictable location.
The typical locations where people look for product recommendations are soon after the main banner on the homepage or towards the end and before or after the reviews section on a product page.
Considering the eCommerce space is now exploding with possibilities, most customers feel one need in common - to be able to view and buy what’s relevant to their life choices. And when you’re an eCommerce business, they look to you to have done your homework and narrowed down the choices for them. With an effective product recommendation strategy and display, it is possible to delight not just loyalists but also those who are relatively new (and whose behavior you can then use to show more specific recommendations).