Customisation vs Personalisation and Buy vs Build

When you start an online business, the first few questions you’ll have to ask yourself to go along the lines of: What and how much should I sell? Who will my team members be? What should the size and level of complexity of my business be? Eventually, you move on to more technical questions such as How do I list my site with internet search services, set up a system for processing sales and provide a means for secure transactions? What do all of these questions have in common? They are all easy to answer.

Once you have started your online business, you will in due course have to make some more complex choices. These questions do not have easy answers. What to choose depends on your goals. In this article, we present 2 such concern you will have to face. One of the decisions facing you today is whether to customise or personalise your user experience. Before you can do that, though, you must decide whether to buy or build your e-commerce platform.

Customisation vs. Personalisation

Both customisation and personalisation enhance the user experience by tailoring content and features to specific characteristics of users. When you interact with customers, you can either enable them to customise the experience themselves or personalise it for them. Personalisation is when your tailor content with your user’s characteristics or preferences in mind. Customisation gives the user control over what they see or interact with online. The purpose served is different but the end goal is the same. The specific needs or interests of the user must be matched.

When you start an online business, you must find your niche. Simply put, picking a niche means concentrating all efforts on a specialised segment of your market. As e-commerce expert Ryan BeMiller said, “Establishing yourself as an expert in your niche is one of the primary ways for you to gain credibility.”

A great example of an e-commerce company that successfully targeted a narrow audience is Bonobos. When founders Andy Dunn and Brian Spaly discovered that men don’t like most of the pants they buy from stores, they started Bonobos to solve the problem. Bonobos send targeted emails to customers who are most likely to purchase from them. They also provide individualised suggestions based on previous interactions with the company, such as past purchases and browsing behaviours. This is an example of personalization. Amazon, Netflix and Spotify do this, too.

Facebook, the American online social media and social networking service, is a great example of customisation. Each Facebook user can get exactly what they want. Facebook lets its users hide content they don’t want to see and turn on notifications for what they do want to see. You can personalise virtually any aspect of your website with WooCommerce,  an open source e-commerce plugin for WordPress. (If you are looking for an online shop management system, we recommend MyShop, an online shop management system powered by WooCommerce.)

As you can see, there aren’t as many examples of customisation as there are of personalisation. Customisation imposes higher interaction costs and there has been a shift towards personalisation as a result. Keep in mind that customisation can work for you if your users know what they need. Both customisation and personalisation require work to maintain.

Whichever one you choose, strive for simplicity of design. Strive for usability. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon once said “If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” The key to building great user experience is performing specific UX research. Before you make the decision to customise or personalise, discover the behaviours, motivations, and needs of your customers. Choose the one that will improve the quality of the user’s interaction with and perceptions of you.

Buy vs Build

The “buy versus build” decision is a significant one because your e-commerce platform represents you. If you have a unique plan for designing your site, wish to stay in control of how your site functions and looks or want a development team to design your site,  you should build a platform. If, however, you are a small business, have a limited development budget or no time to develop a platform, you should buy a platform. It is worth noting that Forrester Consulting, an American market research company, found that companies that had purchased a customer web portal realised a positive return on investment.

Having said that, you should keep in mind that while buying might seem like the obvious choice because it is easier and cheaper, store-bought systems can be almost identical, so building a platform might be unavoidable if you are hoping to differentiate yourself. Challenging choices lie ahead of you.


We would love to know which one you choose in the comments below!