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How to personalize e-commerce in a cookieless future

Cookies are now a piece of marketing history and the future of B2C looks a lot like a conversation. Wondering how to break the ice? There’s no better way than with a form.

Even if they don’t know it, all e-commerce brands have a theme song. You can hear it in the opening credits of the 2000s television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It’s called “Who Are You” by The Who.

If you’re an e-commerce business owner or marketer, you should be asking your prospects and customers the following questions: Who are you? What do you want? Why do you want that? If you can’t find the answers to those questions, a competitor surely will. Until recently, third-party data was the marketing (and merchandising) crystal ball. Data deprecation is an old tune now. The cookie is on its way out, new privacy regulations pop up daily, and ad-blocking software is a Chrome extension away. But there’s a silver lining to the death of third-party data, and it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Zero-party data provides an effective (and respectful) avenue for discovering what your buyers want and why. Your business can then act on this data by offering on-point buying experiences that offer more value and deepen relationships.

Almost any business or industry should invest in zero-party data, but e-commerce in particular has much to gain.

Why personalization is the secret sauce of e-commerce 

E-commerce has exploded in the last few years. The pandemic, work-from-home culture, and product availability have all played a role. But, those outside variables only accelerated something already unique about e-commerce. Arpan Podduturi, Director of Product Retail and Messaging at Shopify, sums it up perfectly: “The purchase journey is now non-linear. It can happen from seeing an ad on Instagram, an influencer on TikTok, [or] a drop on Twitter.” It’s true. Purchasing decisions are more like marathons than sprints now—and smart brands will adapt. Consistent personalization is the secret to wow-ing potential buyers and eventually winning them over. If you can give someone dozens of personalized mini-moments with your brand, they’ll feel like the most important person in the room on the internet.

Quick definition: McKinsey states that “...personalization is when seller organizations use data to tailor messages to specific users’ preferences.”

And data isn’t just numbers, graphs, and charts. Yes, businesses can—and should—use quantitative resources to design a great customer experience. Behavioral analytics, platform data, and paid ad metrics are all necessary, but focusing only on these leaves a big gap in customer intelligence. A deeper understanding of your customer requires unstructured, qualitative data that reflects sentiment, emotion, and opinion. A great way to capture that? Forms.

E-commerce + forms = a match made in customer loyalty heaven

Forms help e-commerce companies create genuine connections with customers, many of whom have high expectations and low levels of trust. 

  • Forms provide a unique way to dialogue with buyers. To stand out from the competition, engage customers with eye-catching, branded forms. Use images, videos, and other media to customize each interaction.  

  • Forms don’t have the third-party creep factor. Spare your customers the frustration of endless ads, emails, and pop-ups. Forms are a breath of fresh air, giving your customers the dignity of choice.

  • Forms remind your customers you’re human. Customers no longer just buy products and services. They also use their dollars to “vote” for beliefs and principles. Forms give you a chance to communicate your brand’s core values, like transparency, innovation, or creativity.

Since e-commerce is hyper-dependent on personalization, leaders need to get creative to make sure every milestone across the buyer journey is smooth and relevant.

4 ways to turn up the personalization dial with forms

The beauty of forms is their utility. Just like a conversation between two people, a form can convey almost any idea or theme. A form has the power to attract, engage, and delight buyers. 

For e-commerce, that means personalizing the major phases of revenue attainment: lead capture, acquisition, and retention. Let’s explore a few examples of how to make it happen. 

1. Use forms for customer targeting and segmentation

In Shopify’s 2023 Commerce Trends report, respondents said that using customer data for targeting and segmentation was one of their top five strategies for acquisition and retention.

That might sound obvious, but there’s no better place to start. 

Targeting and segmentation help you answer those essential questions we mentioned.

Who are your customers? Why do they buy from you? When they do buy from you, what'll make them come back? Segmentation helps you break down your audience into bite-sized chunks so you can create individualized purchasing experiences for your buyers. When it comes to forms, e-commerce shops have at least two fantastic segmentation options:

  • Demographic segmentation: Have you ever walked into the same department store in two different cities or regions? Same store, totally different experience. That’s because buying interests change based on geography, regional income level, education, and more. Whip up a demographic survey to learn which products appeal to different groups. But be careful on this one—the way you word your questions matters. Get started with our demographic survey template.

  • Psychographic segmentation: Don’t let the word starting with “psycho” scare you off. This approach segments buyers based on their interests and preferences. For example, if your online shop is known for its outdoor backpacks, you can use a form to ask your customers what they'd improve about their bag, how long they’ve used it, and what colors they prefer. Your findings can help you reach new audiences with the same product. Try out one of our product survey templates.

For segmentation beginners, here’s an idea: Try targeting groups based on their expected spend. You’ll be able to A/B test different pricing offers and better understand which customers want a premium product or a bargain.

2. Go the extra mile with Hidden Fields

There’s nothing quite like receiving a letter in the mail. It’s arguably one of the most personal ways to communicate with someone. 

Including Hidden Fields in a form gives users the sense that a company has created the experience specifically for them and no one else. “Hidden Fields” is a pseudo-technical term that simply describes a place in a form where you can place specific customer info. If you already know your respondent’s name, email, or location, you can use all of this to personalize your form—just like a piece of mail. But e-commerce companies can expand on this tactic to include even more data points. Think:

  • purchase history

  • browsing preferences

  • items in cart

  • offers claimed

  • subscription purchases 

The result is an eye-catching form that elicits a response. The best part? You can build Hidden Fields automatically using MailChimp and track responses on the Typeform Results page

3. Increase sales with customizable order forms

Finalizing an order—the last phase of the buyer journey—is the moment every e-commerce store waits. Every campaign, offer, and paid ad has done its job. Each one of those touchpoints might have all the personalization in the world, but if the order form doesn’t line up, your prospect will stay a prospect. This is your last opportunity to convert, and a personalized order form helps you seal the deal. But what makes an order form personal? Well, it depends on your product or service, but in general, order forms should:

  • Be embedded in the perfect spot, such as your website, email campaign, newsletter, or social channels. 

  • Include branded elements and design that feel similar to other touchpoints within the customer experience.

  • Offer one place to receive payment, edit carts, and generate shipping information.

Forms offer a sleek, easy-to-navigate shopping experience in a single location. And every time a buyer completes a form, you gain access to a new batch of historical customer data to optimize the buying journey.

Typeform gives e-commerce shops even more flexibility with Branching and calculations. This means each order form is unique to the user depending on the info they enter, like product quantities, discount codes, and coupons. Ready to bump up your checkout game? Sample one of our order form templates here

4. Integrate forms into your e-commerce tech stack

E-commerce brands have a lot on their plate. Successful stores that outpace the competition need to tick some big boxes: manage inventory, understand customers, ship products, and receive payments. Each of these priorities represents a need for a digital tool or platform. The more harmonious your tech stack is, the easier it is to personalize the customer experience. 

That’s why we created Typeform Connect—an integration suite with hundreds of pre-built solutions. Here are a few key options specifically intended for e-commerce stores:

  • HubSpot: Pipe your form responses right to your HubSpot dashboards for a unified view of all your data sources. For the most accurate customer profiles possible, create automated workflows to update HubSpot with new Typeform entries.

  • Square: What’s more personal than a virtual shopping assistant? Typeform’s Square integration embeds directly into your online store, helping customers find the right product at the right time. Receive payments, return items, or book services all in one form.

  • Klaviyo: Unlock the full segmentation power of forms with this Klaviyo integration. Conveniently sprinkle forms across any stage of the buyer journey (landing pages, SMS, email) to personalize interactions with your brand.

With the right tools and a little ingenuity, e-commerce shops can bootstrap their entire operation using personalized forms and integrations. Don’t believe us? During COVID lockdowns, the Schmahl family made their in-person farmers market accessible to online buyers by using:

  • A personalized form to collect orders for produce

  • A Stripe integration for payments

  • An automatic integration from Typeform to Google Sheets to coordinate contact and delivery info

  • An integration between Google Sheets and Brevo for personalized email/SMS notifications

  • An integration between Google Sheets and Circuit to automatically find the best delivery routes

Even the most advanced enterprise tech stack can pull a page from The Schmahl family story. The possibilities of integrations paired with personalized forms are endless.

Forms are good—completed forms are better

To get the most out of forms, you need to understand how to craft them. Personalization isn’t possible if your forms go unused. Regardless of where, how, or why you use forms, if you stick to these basic principles, you won’t go wrong:

  • Keep it short and sweet. Forms that take longer than 54 seconds (yes, we counted) are less likely to be completed. Keep the experience under a full minute to ensure folks reach the end. Generally, a form with six or fewer questions should do the trick.

  • Stay positive. The vibe and tone of your copy will influence your form’s completion rates. Negatively framed questions can actually cause drop-off. You don’t need to throw exclamations around willy-nilly, but you should keep the copy as light and positive as possible. Instead of, “Tell us where we went wrong,” go for “How can we improve your experience next time?”

  • Use stats and numbers. Everyone loves a good statistic. We’ve noticed that forms have higher completion rates if they include an interesting number or data point. Numbers make abstract concepts, thoughts, and questions more personal and concrete.

  • Use lead magnets. A lead magnet is essentially an offer. According to McKinsey, “A powerful way to convince users to…share this kind of information (zero-party data) is to give them something valuable in exchange.” Our research confirms this. To bump up completion rates, add keywords like download, gift card, giveaway, gift, winner, guide, win, and free.

Looking forward, successful e-commerce brands will all have one thing in common—they’ll build buying experiences with their customers, not just for them. 

But to do that, they’ll have to play detective by asking, Who are you? Getting that question right is the only way to guarantee that the customer finds value where they expect it most. 

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