Web companies want to preempt your desires.
The next evolution of the web is making its presence felt in Australia. And this time, it's personal.
Called the "adaptive web", it involves the spontaneous creation of personalised web pages, based on voluntarily-entered data, browser cookies and "fingerprinting" software that identifies returning visitors.
Adaptive content has been most commonly used by online publishers and online advertisers, and by larger retailers to display personalised recommendations based on a customer's previous online behaviour.
Now, more Australian retailers are using data to personalise their sites, and the concept is spilling into other sectors. Ultimately, it may lead to websites that are entirely customised.
Willie Pang, chief executive of digital services agency Amplify, said adaptive content was being investigated by many Australian companies outside of retail, particularly in financial services. Often, they were being held back by inflexible content management systems that made rapid page customisation difficult.
"Over the next one or two years we are going to see a fairly pervasive upgrading of the core platforms that drive the web experiences," Pang said.
At Suncorp, the executive manager of group digital strategy and innovation, Murray Howe, said adaptive content was part of his company's strategy.
"My understanding is that in the banking space, all of us are looking to do something, but no one is there yet," Howe said. "What's holding it back is the complexity in the data environments."
Tailoring websites to suit individuals is one manifestation of the concept of Big Data, in which the masses of data generated by individuals is used to discern information about them.
According to Nigel Peach, ANZ sales manager for specialist data company Servian, the quality of data available has allowed companies to cater for increasingly smaller customer segments. The key to success, he said, is to create a personalised experience in the time it takes for the screen to refresh.
"The challenge here is a technical one, which is how granular is the data that you catch," Peach said. "Everybody is looking at it, but everybody is still getting their head into it."
Online retailers, meanwhile, are powering ahead with adaptive content.
Chief executive of the Australian online department store OO.com.au, Rolf Krecklenberg, said his company recently introduced new forms of personalisation on its site and direct marketing emails to give added buying incentives to repeat customers.
"It is about making it really attractive for them to purchase the recommended product," Krecklenberg said.
The company's marketing director, James Mooring, said the system relied on the customer clicking through from a customised email. Possible changes could include product recommendations or a birthday greeting.
"Because we know the reason they have come to the site, we can start to personalise elements of the site," Mooring said.
He said OO.com.au had witnessed improved click-through rates from emails and increased sales conversion.
"There have been over 30 customised versions of the site created thus far and thousands of individual variations in emails with unique content included in each one," Mooring said.
The online specialty store Le Domaine is also using adaptive content to deliver recommendations, based on previous pages visited and items purchased, blended with data from other people's past activities.
General manager Andrew Chak said personalisation worked best when a consumer did not realise it was happening.
"All the customer can see on the website are things that appeal to him or her, without even realising," Chak said.
He said that while most Australia retailers were still in their infancy in terms of personalisation – Le Domaine included – he had big plans.
"Entire page designs could be different depending on where the customer came to our site from," Chak said.