Brands can learn a lot about their online shoppers just based on their clicks. They can tell whether you live in a rural or urban area, and the average income of people in your zip code. If you've shopped with them before, they know even more based on your past purchases--for example, they know you only make purchases when they have free-shipping promotions, and that you're probably female since you've purchased women's shoes on your past 10 visits.
But that wealth of customer information translates into wasted opportunities if a brand can't figure out how to use it to its advantage. For brands such as Best Buy, Urban Outfitters, QVC, and Petco, that's where website-testing company Monetate  comes in.
Monetate's software lets marketers with no coding knowledge draw upon all those different data points about a customer--from what the weather is like in the area they live, to what items they purchase, to how close they are to a brand's brick-and-mortar outpost--and use them to run campaigns directly tailored to them.
"For the most part, you know where a customer’s coming from when they come to your website," Monetate CMO Kurt Heinemann tells Fast Company. "Clothing shown in Orlando versus Chicago as it’s presented in December should be completely different. But even today, most retailers will present a snow parka in Orlando in December because it’s wintertime."
On average, marketers using Monetate are testing 52 campaigns at once, which allows them to get very specific in the kinds of customers they can target. Because Monetate campaigns run in real time, marketers can instantly measure what works and what doesn't as the customer interacts with the website and ultimately use this information to try to boost sales. Heinemann says that granular level of tailoring helps turn the marketers into margin-makers for their brands, driving billions of dollars in revenue from people who were already visiting brands' sites, but not necessarily making purchases.
"It seems silly but when you can’t find things, you can’t buy them," Heinemann says. "The easier you make it for a customer, the more they’re likely to transact with you. And the more they’re likely to transact with you, the more they’re likely to do it again."
Though Monetate's natural customer base is full of retailers, it's also serving customers in other verticals, such as travel and media. For example, it's working with National Geographic, which produces a diversified slate of content ranging from lifestyle to archaeology, to make sure users can get to the content they're looking for faster, based on what they've viewed before.
Still, there's certainly a bit of the creepy factor in the idea of a website that morphs itself to tailor to your personal taste, based on your previous activities. But Heinemann says customer data is always anonymous, so although Monetate and the retailer can take an in-depth look at your activities, they never know your real identity.
But it's all about balance. In order for customers to not feel like they're being fishbowled, Monetate's campaigns have to feel natural, almost undetectable.
"If you were to walk into a store and the salesperson there tells you, 'This sweater would look great with those pants,' that's not creepy," Heinemann says. "But if he said, 'This sweater would go great with those pants you bought down the street last week that you brought home and put in your closet'? That’s when you've taken one step too far."
[Image: Flickr user Hello Turkey Toe ]