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Frank & Oak CEO Shares Tips on Personalizing Online Interactions

While Canadian consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet for their shopping needs, buying goods and services online can still feel somewhat impersonal. A store’s appearance or a friendly conversation with a salesperson can make a transaction memorable. eCommerce doesn’t have the advantage of having someone physically present during the shopping experience, but there are some ways online stores can create personalized online interactions that help improve the customer experience.

Montreal-based menswear brand Frank & Oak, a Bell customer, is one of Canada’s fastest growing retailers, and its personal touches made it stand out among many other online stores. One of its ingenious ideas is including handwritten notes inside each shipment, to give each purchase a personalized touch. Now, several years on, the brand is going to even greater lengths to make online shopping more personal.

Ethan SongI spoke with Frank & Oak co-founder and CEO Ethan Song, who explained how his company continues to make online interactions personal, and what small and medium-sized businesses can do to make their online stores feel more like a trusted neighbourhood shop.

Offer personalized service and recommendations

Personalized service isn’t anything new for brick-and-mortar-stores, but this can be difficult to recreate online, on a larger scale.

Song says that the value Frank & Oak offers is more than just providing products at competitive prices; it also provides style advice and inspiration that’s culturally relevant for its 25 to 35 year old demographic. “We’re able to provide a unique experience where we become our customers’ advisor.”

Customers of Frank & Oak can join what it calls “The Hunt Club”, a $20-per-year premium service that gives members free shipping, access to a style advisor, and five personally picked items sent to their home to try each month.

“We realize that customer service, and especially providing personal recommendations, is a big part of what differentiates us in the menswear segment,” he says. Being one of the few menswear retailers that realizes men often need fashion advice and providing that advice through their website helps it stand out in the marketplace. “A lot of guys are interested in fashion, but they [generally] don’t have as much information as women, so providing personal recommendations really came from a need that customers had. We took something that existed for high-end brands and made it more democratic via technology by combining data that we have on customers and providing great product recommendations.”

Your business can also look for ways to add recommendations to customer interactions. For instance, on a product page, add links to related products. Or analyze a user’s purchase history to send them a promotional email featuring products they may be interested in.

Understand your customers and what they want

There are new ways to treat customers as unique individuals by creating individual profiles. Frank & Oak, as well as other online retailers, requires shoppers to sign in using a new account or one of their existing social media accounts.

By giving each shopper a unique identity and looking at their browsing habits, these online stores are building relationships by understanding what their customers like and providing accurate recommendations in return. Song says that customers are typically comfortable connecting to an online store via their Facebook or Google accounts, and it’s an effective way of connecting the digital identity of their customers to their store profiles. Ultimately, this provides a better understanding of personal customer preferences, leading to more personalized content, recommendations, and promotions.

Provide culturally relevant online content

One of the best ways to compete with online marketplaces like Amazon, which do a great job of providing customer recommendations on a large scale, is to present a unique culture with branding that appeals to a specific demographic.

Rather than websites just being a platform for transactions, Song says they can be places for brands to present content and culture that defines their brand.

In this regard, Frank & Oak provides style tips and inspiration on their company blog. They also delve into more general content aimed at its young, urban demographic through its lifestyle magazine Oak Street and by offering downloadable music playlists that express the company’s culture beyond just clothes.

Song says, “When it comes to customers, they’re not just looking for convenient access to products. They’re also looking for culture; they’re looking for content; they’re looking for advice. And I think that by focusing on a very specific demographic, we’re able to deliver that.”

Providing content that reflects customer tastes and values helps an online brand build rapport by demonstrating they deeply understand their customers.

The bottom line

Song says online retailers should think about the retail experience not just as a way of selling goods, but also about how to personalize the customer experience before, during and after each transaction.

If your company does business online, you can personalize your customer’s online experience by understanding who they are both demographically and on an individual level. This way, customers can get a great experience that feels a bit more personal, like they might get at a local shop, in addition to getting the convenience of shopping online through a robust eCommerce platform.

What are you doing to personalize your online business operations? Or what have you seen that you like as a customer yourself? Let us know in the comments, below.

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