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Ep. 68 - Breaking the Mold and Balancing Privacy on Personalization with Shahram Anver

Shahram was a data scientist at TripAdvisor prior to DataCue where he helped online businesses improve conversion through site optimization. Prior to this, he also spent many years as a senior consultant at IBM. 

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [1:28] What does DataCue do?
  • [2:21] Personalization is huge, but is it for everyone?
  • [3:45] Is there an indication to determine if a store needs personalization?
  • [5:51] The simplest way to get started on personalization
  • [7:23] Demographics can be a bad indicator of what people are going to buy
  • [8:56] Different ways people use personalization
  • [10:55] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [11:44] How does DataCue implement personalization?
  • [13:56] What information does DataCue need for personalization?
  • [15:21] Protecting the consumer’s privacy
  • [16:13] If you’re interested in personalization, do your research and test things out
  • [18:36] AI and Machine Learning is for large companies, personalization is for SMBs


  • Shahram’s LinkedIn Page: linkedin.com/in/shahram-anver-33b26219
  • DataCue’s website: datacue.co
  • DataCue is excited to offer an extended 21-day free trial, exclusively for Honest Ecommerce listeners. Offer only valid till the end of May. DataCue will also complete the store set up free of charge for you. If you want to redeem this offer, email support@datacue.co and mention Honest EcommerceIf you have more questions about personalization or DataCue, feel free to ask Shahram questions using this email, as well.
  • Visit gorgias.grsm.io/honest to get your second month free.

If you’re enjoying the show, we’d love it if you left Honest Ecommerce a review on Apple Podcasts. It makes a huge impact on the success of the podcast, and we love reading every one of your reviews!





Shahram Anver  

Give them a really good customer experience and what better customer experience can you give them than helping them get to their objective even faster.


Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. 


I'm your host Chase Clymer, and I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 


If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show.


Chase Clymer  

Hey everybody, welcome back to Honest Ecommerce. My name is Chase Clymer, chilling out. It's 1 PM here in Columbus, Ohio. It's not Sunny, though. It's terrible, but calling from literally across the world, today we're welcoming to the show, Shahram from DataCue


So Shahram is staying up until 2 AM to have this conversation. First of all, I just want to say thank you.


Shahram Anver  

(laughs) You're very welcome. I was looking forward to this. So, [I'm] very happy to be on this.


Chase Clymer  

Yeah. So I'm learning a lesson with just this podcast in general right here, this one that I'm talking about with you. I should start recording these things the second people get on the phone. 


Because unfortunately, all of our listeners missed a lot of really cool stuff we were talking about beforehand, so I had to cut him off and say "Let's just get into it because this is gonna be a fun one." 


So other than staying up till 2 AM in Singapore, what do you do? Tell us a bit about DataCue before we get into the more of the nitty-gritty.


Shahram Anver  

Sure. So, DataCue basically changes a website to match the content that every visitor is interested in. So if you think of a regular website, you basically try to make the perfect website for everyone. 


So if I come in, I see the homepage. And you've got a great returning visitor who has bought from you loads of times, he also sees the same content. 


So, Amazon really pushed this idea that hey, "Why do we do this? Why do we have the same website for everyone? Why don't we try to..." That's where this idea of personalization came in. 


I think the best example, which I can think of is YouTube. So when you go to YouTube, your YouTube looks different from me. 


So aren't we trying to bring this concept also to Ecommerce? So let's make the perfect site for each visitor rather than the perfect site. Does that make sense?


Chase Clymer  

Yeah, no. That makes sense. I think personalization is huge these days. You see it in marketing automation, where it's hitting people up with more unique information that is specific to their customer journey. 


So taking that content and also putting it on a website is obviously the next step. And is that what products like DataCue like to help people do on Shopify stores?


Shahram Anver  

Exactly. I think what you're kind of getting at is that it's a bit like a maturity curve. So I think we can already start by saying, personalization is not for everyone. 


If you've got very few products or if you're just getting started, personalization is probably the last thing you should be thinking about. 


You should be focusing on your basics like ads and things like that. Getting a nice speedy website done. 


But just to get to your question, once you've got all your basics nailed down, then you can start thinking about "Okay, so I'm getting all these visitors, how do I make more of them convert?" 


And one of the things [that] is pretty clear is for you to give them a really good customer experience. And what better customer experience can you give them than helping them get to their objective even faster?


Chase Clymer  

That makes a lot of sense. And I like how you pointed out there [to] don't jump into personalization if you're just getting started because you don't have enough data to do what it is these programs will do. 


Shahram Anver  



Chase Clymer  

Is there like a certain threshold or traffic level that you say like this would probably be the borderline of when you should start thinking about a product like this?


Shahram Anver  

Yeah. I mean, we recently changed our pricing to make it friendlier to everyone. Because unfortunately (laughs), not many people like to listen to our advice. We keep getting people signing up who don't really have too many orders. 


So, I think the first thing you want to do is to check whatever product that you're looking at from a pricing perspective. "Does it give me a good return?" Right? So for instance, if you're going to be spending, I don't know, $100 a month on a personalization solution, you better make sure that that app is going to give you at least $1,000, like a 10 to 1 ROI, for it to make sense. 


If you're just getting started, you're much better off spending that $100 on maybe a little bit more ads, or maybe a nicer theme or something like this. So typically, what I'd say, the easy one is looking at products. 


So if you've got something like 10 products, --which a lot of successful businesses have-- then you shouldn't go anywhere near personalization, because you can just put all 10 products on your homepage and you're done.


Chase Clymer  



Shahram Anver  

But if you've got a lot more, so let's say like hundreds or thousands of SKUs, now personalization gets interesting. So now the second thing you got to look at is just your revenue. How much revenue are they making? 


If you're making something like 10K USD a month, I'd say that's a pretty good sign that you've got all your basics intact, and you're looking to... You're in a good place to get to the next level. 


But if you're doing a little bit less than that, I think it's okay, too. But if you’re really just starting out, then I think that revenue is just a good proxy for whether you've got all your basics together. 


I think once you've got your basics together, that's a good time to get to personalization. Does that help? 


Chase Clymer  

No, it does help. I think the one part they're just talking about is like, first of all, you gotta have sales coming in. 


Shahram Anver  



Chase Clymer  

Because without that, you can't really do anything. I think that once you start hitting the multiples of thousand a month, now you've definitely figured out your product-market fit. You've got a product that people actually want at this point. 


Shahram Anver  



Chase Clymer  

So now you can make the experience better by trying to increase it. So talking about personalization more as I was listening to you, it dawned on me that I think that this is almost like an evolution of what people were doing when they were building out funnels with microsites. It's almost, instead of building an individual web page for each specific offer...


Shahram Anver  



Chase Clymer  

...you are now just building a single web page that has dynamic offers that will automatically show them to the people it makes sense to. Do you think that's... Is that correct in thinking that?


Shahram Anver  

Yeah. I really like the way you put that because that's one of the tips I give as a way to get started with personalization without investing in a tool just to see how it works. 


So you just make a whole bunch of landing pages for different segments and start with that. And if that's working really well then the logical next step is just to automate the whole thing. 


If you're a fashion store and you predominantly have men and women coming in, there's really nothing stopping you right now to make a mystore.com/men [and] mystore.com/women and just be personalized immediately there, right?


Chase Clymer  

No, yeah. There's nothing stopping you and that would make more sense especially with your retargeting campaigns...


Shahram Anver  



Chase Clymer  

...through Facebook and Instagram, you can just say like only show this to women [or] only show this to men. 

And right there, you're already personalizing stuff and creating segments. So, right there, that is a golden nugget. 


Everyone should just go do that with their ads if they're not doing it right now. (laughs) It's a quick and easy win.


Shahram Anver  

(laughs) Yeah. So where that gets really interesting though, is that every time people talk about personalization, people think demographics. So you think, "Okay. Male. Age 35. Living in California or what have you. Stuff like that. 


But one of the things which I found doing personalization is that demographics tend to be a pretty bad indicator of what they're going to buy because people are just so random. So for instance, I've got a 14-month-old baby. 


So if you were looking at just my demographics, you're just gonna show me all like men's stuff. You're going to show me pants, maybe jackets, things like that. But maybe I'm just looking for something for my baby today. 


And so my behavior is going to be completely different to what you predict based on demographics. So that's where you really see tools like personalization, or like tools like us --or whoever else-- really shine. Because what tools like us do is we don't really look too much at demographics. 


Because number one, we don't have that data. That's the stuff Facebook and Google collect, but we don't do that. And the second one is, just like I said, it's not very useful.


For me, it's much more useful to know that you came on the site and you search for, I don't know, baby diapers or something like that. And now I know --and I don't really care who you are-- I just know that you're interested in purchasing something in this category. 


And now I can just specialize your whole experience in real-time to that intent. Does that make sense?


Chase Clymer  

No, that does make sense. So, I guess... Now I'm just gonna start annoying you about...


Shahram Anver  

(laughs) Go for it.


Chase Clymer  

...not specific use cases, but what do you see --other than search intent-- what are some of the other ways in which people are utilizing the software to personalize their websites? And are there some that are like almost a little bit more strange that are working? 


Shahram Anver  

Oh, That's an interesting one. I don't know about strange but I think if I tell you what the metrics we use, I'm pretty sure you're gonna think that it makes sense. Product links are an obvious one. 


So if you click on a product, it's pretty clear you're interested in that. And then we also look at how much time you spent on a certain product by looking at it, because we know how much --between each page view-- we know roughly how much time you spend on it. We also look at what you previously added if you have bought it before.


That's not that useful, but it does help out a little bit. And then obviously your searches. So these are the main ones. We are looking at some other signals, but these are the ones that I think are the most predictive. 


Because I think the most important thing which I've learned doing this is that prediction is a lot of BS. You can't really predict what someone's gonna buy tomorrow. It's really hard. Because people are so random. I think you can do it a little bit. 


But the most important thing, which I found is real-time [intent], and that's just really like, "What is this person doing right now on my site? And what can I do to make that intent even easier?" 


Because then you probably had this experience on YouTube. You go on YouTube, you see all these videos. Some percentage of the time, you'll be like, "Oh okay, that looks interesting. I'll click on that." 


But quite a few times, you're probably gonna be like "No, I actually want to watch this particular video." And you're gonna start searching for it. So a good personalization solution is to really cater to both of those use-cases.


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Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So once you're starting to track this stuff and you're using something like this, what are you swapping out on the website? How is it being personalized? Are we just changing up the products that are showing up on the homepage? Are we changing up offers? What are we doing?


Shahram Anver  

Yeah, great question. And I'll say this is the one in which we get lots of feedback from stores. Merchants, who keep saying, "Hey, can you do this? Can you do that?" But right now, we're trying really hard to move away from product recommendations, because that's pretty much what everybody does. 


But don't get me wrong, product recommendations are awesome. They do work. So, I think we don't need to dive into the product recommendations too much. But I think people are pretty familiar with that. On top of that, we do banners


So when you go on the homepage, you'll see things like a slider or different images, announcing collections and things like that. So we can dynamically change all those images per visitor. And then we do things like notifications. 


So, on a lot of Ecommerce sites, people do these pop-ups which is like "20% off if you buy today!" or something like that. I personally never really liked that. So this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. So we had this thing where... 


You know when you go on Facebook or Instagram, you get a bell icon with notification of something you care about? So we sort of implemented the same thing with an Ecommerce site. 


So if I went to a site last week, and I've looked at a product, and this week, that same product is on discount, we'll put a little bell icon with a little red dot on it. 


So you click on it, and you'll see that "Oh, that product you looked at last week? Yeah, it's on discount today." 


So it's like a relevant notification that's personalized, but it's driving purchase urgency in a nice way. So we also do things like if you looked at a product that was out of stock, then this week, when you're back, it's back in stock, it will give you an alert. 


And the same thing if it's low in stock. So that's something you probably care about because people generally tend to open a million tabs and look at the same product in lots of different sites. 


So I think it's interesting for customers to know that "Hey, the product [that] you like, well, it's low in stock. So might want to get a hold of it pretty soon."


Chase Clymer  

That's awesome. Those are amazing ways to try to push the needle forward. So with the personalization, I'm assuming it's tying it to IP addresses or whatnot. 

How long is that personalization around? Do you need to have their email? Do you need to have their... What information do you need? Can we do this with anonymous traffic and it'll remember what they were doing?


Shahram Anver  

Yeah, great question. DataCue is relatively new. I think we're about a year and a half old. Almost two. And it's in the aftermath of all the privacy stuff exploding


So I think as an industry, we've got quite a lot to do to get people’s trust back. So we designed it to be pretty privacy-conscious. 


So we don't track IP addresses or anything like that. All we do is assign a random number to your browser. And so, I don't really care that you're Chase, I'll just call you "A1". And then I'll just know that A1 looked at this product, that product and things like that. 


So if you clear cookies or you use another browser, we don't know it's you. But if you log in to Shopify, and then I can link A1 to your email, and then through that, once you log in, then obviously any device that you use --if you are logged in-- will follow the same recommendation.


Chase Clymer  

Awesome. That's cool. So it's a good fine line there between being overly creepy and just being like, "We're just trying to make your experience better."


Shahram Anver  

(laughs) Yeah... I think that we're gonna see a lot of... I think the idea of privacy is a really good one. I think you need to really explain to people how you're using your data. And I think a really important one is don't collect data that you don't need. 


Just take the most basic thing that you could use. So in our case, we don't need your email address. So if you've signed in, then yes, we can use it. But if you haven't signed in, there's no need for me to try to find it in any other way. 


So as long as we're just being really transparent with how we're using it, and you actually get a service out of it, I think most people are cool with that.


Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Yeah. Now, is there anything that I haven't asked you about personalization that you think would be worthwhile to share with the audience?


Shahram Anver  

I think this space, in general, is exploding. I was in a couple of Ecommerce conferences in Amsterdam and I swear to you, I think like 60% or 70% of the talks with some form of personalization. 


So there's a lot of talk about it. But I think it's still one of those things, which is a little mysterious. Because when you start an Ecommerce site and you look at your basics and things to do, nobody's gonna question that you have to do email marketing. 


Nobody's gonna question that you need a really fast website and all that stuff. So what I'm finding in this space is that you have a lot of companies that have a very different maybe, let's say a point of view. In the end, marketing, it's got a standard. 


You've got your basic things. You've got to send an abandoned cart email you've got to do... There are a few things that if you know it, just have to do [it]. Whereas personalization, I think there are a lot of conditions. There is a lot of stuff going on. 


So, I think, anyone listening to this, and if this does sound interesting, I would highly encourage you to do your research and see... There are quite a few people out there and just look at their point of view and what they want to achieve with personalization and see if that fits with your strategy. 


I can talk about us (DataCue) personally. For us, I think, we see a lot of value in doing a smart homepage. So for us, we think the homepage is one of the most important destinations on the site.


It's the first thing people see, it's the first view of your brand and things like that. So we think that making that more intelligent and smarter is a good way to go. 


But you might find some other products that have a slightly different view. So I encourage you to anyone listening in to just look into it and see which one fits.


Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Awesome. So I can't thank you enough for coming to the show here. Now I know that you guys are gonna help out listeners of the show if they're interested in learning more about DataCue. 


We've been trying to get you on this podcast for a few weeks now. But you did have an offer here. Email support@datacue.co and just mention the Honest Ecommerce podcast, and they're gonna help you out and waive the first month of the fee if it makes sense for you. Sounds like he's gonna turn a few of you away that need to focus on other stuff, though. Which is...


Shahram Anver  



Chase Clymer  

If everything is important, nothing is important. You just need to make sure that it's the right thing to be doing at the right time. 


Shahram Anver  

Exactly. And hey, you can use that email address to even ask me any questions. I'm more than happy to help out if there's something that's on your mind [or] you want to just clarify something. The reason I even got into this is that I used to be a data scientist at TripAdvisor.


And one of the things that really motivated me to start DataCue was, I felt that things like AI and Machine Learning were just really these big buzzwords that the really large companies were really good at. 


But the small and medium companies were really just not very sure how to use it. And so I wanted to do something dedicated where I would just do this black box, but you just need to know, "Okay, how can you actually benefit from it without having to know all the math and all that stuff behind it?" 


So even if you guys are just looking into this and you have any questions, feel free to send me an email. I'll be happy to help you.


Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Shahram, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all those insights with the audience and I look forward to talking to you soon.


Shahram Anver  

Yeah. You, too. Thanks, Chase.


Chase Clymer  

I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well. 


If anything in this podcast resonated with you and your business, feel free to reach out and learn more at electriceye.io/connect. Also, make sure you subscribe and leave an amazing review. Thank you!