How to Personalize First-Time Shopper Experiences


Personalizing a prospective customer’s first visit to your website can give them a memorable customer experience. As long as you don’t cross the line from “Cool, this is what I’m interested in,” to “I’ve never been here before, why do you know so much about me?”

A few well-chosen data points can help you personalize first-time shopper experiences to serve up relevant content. And that’s even before your first-time visitors click around your site, use your search function, or sign up for your emails. 

Start at the source for web and email personalization

How someone found your website or email program is a data point many marketers overlook. Did they click from an organic search listing, a paid search campaign or an Instagram campaign? Did they opt in from a Facebook or LinkedIn post, find you on Pinterest or opt in at one of your stores? 

All of these give you context and first-party data you can use to show first-time visitors copy, images or offers that are relevant to that source. One example: an opt-in invitation tailored to first-time visitors who click to your site from your Instagram page can convert better than a generic pop-up.

Cookie data gives you useful data you can convert into personalized content, even in this era of default cookie-blocking. Help wary users feel more comfortable about enabling cookies—and sharing their first-party data—by showing first-time shoppers what they’ll get in exchange for opting in.

Personalize first-time shopper experiences by building an email onboarding journey that nurtures newcomers

Once your first-time site visitors find your site, your next job is to bring them back. Call on your email messaging program to keep your brand name in front of your customers in the inbox, to give them reasons to come back to your site, and encourage them to buy.

The onboarding or welcome series is your first step in that relationship. After all, it can help you achieve some key marketing goals:

  • Drive prospective customers back to your site without hoping they’ll type your brand name into their browsers or paying to bring them back again and again through paid search or social campaigns.
  • Channel them into making that all-important first purchase.
  • Begin collecting data you can use to personalize future messages.

Once again, your acquisition source is a data-driven starting point to personalize first-time shopper experiences—as well as the rest of your onboarding or welcome series messages for other audiences. Using dynamic content, you could send one version of your onboarding journey to subscribers who signed up onsite and another to people who opted in during checkout or when creating an account or registering for an event. 

It’s really just good old-fashioned drip marketing, in which you assign customers to different messaging tracks, each with its own set of emails. 

A welcome message for a non-purchaser, for example, could deliver an incentive intended to drive a first purchase or invite the newcomer to open an account. Customers who opted in during checkout, however, don’t need that extra discount. Instead, you could promote your mobile app or invite them to follow your social accounts. Later on, circle back after the purchase with a special offer to drive a follow-up purchase.

Want more data? Ask for it!

The preference center should be your gold mine of valuable data to personalize every first-time shopper experience—from web visits to email messages. But all too often we see classic examples of a good idea executed badly. 

Sure you want to serve customers a lot of highly relevant, personalized products and services. But do you really want to make customers scroll through a long list of options on your website? That’s a nightmare for time-pressed users, especially if they’re peering at tiny mobile screens. 

So, do the work for your customers instead. Ask for data gradually, over several emails. Begin in your onboarding series and then mix in preference-data request emails with your regular promotional campaigns.

The Thrive Market email below matches up a data request with customer interests. Sent as one email in a four-message onboarding series, it begins with a survey invitation. Note how the wording addresses one of the objections to doing surveys: “We promise it won’t take longer than slicing an avocado.”


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Then, Thrive Market links directly to 12 different interior sites within its website. Click data on those links reveals their interests without asking for it outright—enabling the brand to drive dynamic content in future messages, too. What better way to make a first impression?

Trade freebies for data to personalize first-time shopper experiences

Your VIP treatment can make first-time customers and loyal buyers alike feel special. So special, in fact, that it nets you even more valuable data. The birthday-request email Sephora sends is a great example of this something-for-something value exchange.

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One key feature in Sephora’s data-driven email program is the birthday email, which gives customers in its rewards program a gift on their birthdays. The email asking for birthday info generates a wealth of data (as you can see). And all for the price of triggering a sweet little freebie for the recipient.

Besides asking for the user’s birthday, however, this email also collects their personal brand and product preferences indirectly. By giving customers the option to choose their own gift, Sephora can find out which brands they like to shop, or if they prefer products or loyalty points over discounts. All of that data helps Sephora understand its customers better, improve messaging precision, and ultimately create some of the most personalized first-time shopper experiences in retail.

Ramp up personalization on triggered emails

Tailoring email content to reflect web behavior is another best practice, especially with abandoned cart and browse abandonment emails. It can also help you resolve an age-old email question: when (and if) to add an incentive to encourage never-before-seen buyers to finish checking out.

Using dynamic content in combination with email triggers, you can automatically serve a discount or other personalized incentive to first-time buyers. Making them much more likely to buy from your brand—while simultaneously preventing every shopper from scoring a sale price or snagging up all of your deal sweeteners.

Personalize the post-purchase email experience

After securing a shopper’s first purchase, your next task is to ask for a second purchase. The faster you can bring first-time buyers back to buy again, the sooner they’ll become regular customers. That shortens the next-purchase cycle and decreases churn—a two-for-one winning tactic. The catch: it takes a highly personal shopping experience to do consistently.

If you’re not doing this yet, start small. Blend in personalized recommendations with your regular promotional content in a broadcast email. A “curated for you” approach that uses dynamic content to spotlight products based on each customer’s purchase history is an easy way to boost clicks, conversions, and engagement.


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