It recently came to my attention that I had some really interesting emails hidden among the plethora of one-to-all campaigns cluttering up my inbox. What do these campaigns have that is significantly different to the rest? A simple and clear concept: the ability to look ahead for the potential sale, which was a particularly welcome surprise seeing as the emails came from ebay.

We can distinguish two types of campaigns: 

In the email campaign titled “Still looking for product X”, the main banner includes the product I last purchased, and suggest similar products matching the key words and price used when searching. In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively simple recommendation email.

However, the real beauty, in my opinion, is the second type of email “Recommended just for you”. Here I received products which I was interested in and had considered buying, without actually having done anything consciously to trigger the recommendation.

I have received a number of these campaigns and I can guarantee that all of them change depending on the latest products I viewed and my latest searches, and are updated instantly.

This is a great example of how all of my online behavior (e.g. clicks, shopping baskets, purchases, search queries and wish lists) is used to display, in real time, recommended items that have high up- and cross-selling potential.

This dynamic template changes the images across four sections based on web behavior. After the most recent activity, the template is fed with the URL of the image and the product description (product datasheet). The first part of the email is filled with the latest viewed products, and the rest with similar products, based on the key words used for searching, as well as other items you may also like or which are currently popular.

For a company like eBay, it is essential that this process is managed in real time. As eBay Europe’s Vice President of Marketing and Advertising, Alexander Von Schirmeister, put it: “The design gives control back to the user so the products they see are more relevant to their interests and make it a better shopping experience.” This is a statement with which I, as a regular shopper, wholeheartedly agree.

And consider the sheer size of eBay! They have millions of products matching my search criteria, sellers around the world and a constantly-changing inventory, yet they still manage not only to offer accurate suggestions for products that might interest me but also real-time updates to simplify my searches (and my life).

This is a great example of how hundreds of complex algorithms can work behind the scenes to produce a seamless shopping experience. Product recommendations are a sure-fire way to increase the probability of a cross-sell and maximize the ROI of your email campaigns. Personalized recommendations based on individual customer purchase and web behavior are clearly the future of email marketing…where do you stand?