Zappos.com lets customers try on customization

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Online shoe retailer Zappos.com is increasingly focused on building long-term relationships with customers via social networking features, one of the company's marketing strategists explained to DMNews. Preliminary results are promising, with increases in the number of pages viewed per visit and sales, since it added the features.

“Historically, Zappos.com was a very transactional site, and it wasn't as emotionally driven as we wanted it to be,” said Brian Kalma, director of user experience and Web strategy at Zappos.com. “If we can speak to customers personally, we will develop deeper relationships.”

Although the company's ultimate goal is to drive sales, Kalma adds that Zappos.com doesn't yet completely understand how initiatives such as personalized product recommendations will impact business. He suggested that creating a more personalized user experience is a big part of Zappos.com's strategy.

The online retailer's first step in this direction was the beta launch of the My.Zappos.com social shopping site three months ago. There, users can sign up to add items to their online “closet” from the Zappos.com site with a question or comment for friends. Items in the closet can also be shared with friends on social networking sites like Facebook.

“We are learning what customers want in a personalized experience and trying to capture the emotion people have with offline shopping and bring it online,” said Kalma.

The company had $635 million in net sales and $1 billion in gross sales in 2008.  Amazon.com acquired it in July for approximately $928 million.

Last month, Zappos.com added ChoiceStream's product-recommendation platform RealRelevance to its site. The solution provides customers with recommendations tailored to their tastes and shopping habits. Previously, all product suggestions were added manually.

In the five weeks since it has been available on up to 40% of the site, Zappos.com has experienced a nearly 30% increase in pages viewed per visit, a 12% to 13% click-through rate on recommendations and nearly a 3.5% lift in sales.

“We do expect those numbers to go up considerably” once the platform is deployed across the site, Kalma said. There are also plans to integrate personalized product recommendations into general market and post-purchase e-mails.

Zappos.com will monitor the results to learn how the recommendations drive repeat visits and spread word of mouth for the brand. The online retailer is also exploring ways to give users more control on the site, including providing more options for how they view search results.

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