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Episode 119 - Shopify Recommended Products Done Right

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Hey, Scott. Austin here.

In this episode is going to have an accompanying video. So if you're listening to the audio version, feel free to listen through. And if you liked what you heard, go back into the show notes and click on the link to the video when you have time to sit down and watch the video. Now, our topic, this episode is going to be about product recommendations.

Let me be clear what I mean about product recommendations. I mean an element on the product page

that promotes other products than the product in the product page.

Now, this is a very common scenario on Amazon where a lot of people

get most of their information about a shopping experience.

so as an example, if I search for unbreakable wine glasses on Amazon and most people start their shopping experiences on Amazon through a search because their product catalog is so large, it's actually hard to navigate through all their navigation menus to find what you're looking for. So most people start their shopping experience with a search.

And in my search for unbreakable wine glasses, I get over a thousand results. It doesn't come with the total number, but I'm sure it's even a lot more than a thousand because

Amazon has

tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of products in their catalog.

as I click on this search page and I have, you know, dozens of results to look at, there's very few tools on that search page to allow me to figure out which of all those thousands of products is the right one for me.

There are some filters, but they're really not that good to narrow down. So when I go to a product page, this is why Amazon is dedicating so much of their product page to recommending other products because they don't have confidence that the shopper has gotten to the right product page because there's not a lot of tools higher up from the product page for the shopper to use to determine what is the right product for them.

on any given product page on Amazon, for anybody who's been there, which is most people in America by now and most people around the world for that matter, listen to this podcast.

So much of a product page on Amazon is now dedicated to other products. Sometimes it's half of the page dedicated to merchandizing. Other products that Amazon sees is related to the product you're on.

So right now I'm looking at an unbreakable wineglass. I see probably 40 or 50 other unbreakable wine glass products promoted on this page in multiple areas throughout the page.

So you would think that for a Shopify store, a really good practice would be to follow this Amazon best practice of heavily promoting other products on the product page. But it's my personal belief that the exact opposite is true.

Very rarely should you be promoting related products on your product page.

and the reason for that is the things that are true for Amazon are not true for you as a typical Shopify store owner. A couple of things that are true for Amazon is that it has tens of or hundreds of millions of products.

No Shopify store has that that kind of product catalog. Another thing it's true for Amazon is they have an unbelievable amount of data points. They have hundreds of millions of customers, billions and billions of transactions. So they have lots of data on which to drive their recommendation engine.

Very few Shopify stores have a high enough volume of transactions to get good recommendations data.

Another thing for Amazon is that they're not an expert in the product category that we're talking about. So in this category I'm looking at right now unbreakable wine glasses. They're not going to be an expert about what's important about unbreakable wine glasses, so they won't have really good filters on the collection pages. They won't have good choices that the customer can make in their shopping experience to narrow down the funnel

to the right product for them.

Now use a Shopify store owner. Have a much smaller catalog, a much more focused catalog, and you should be an expert in your shopping category and you should design a website that is a much better conversion funnel,

a much better decision making funnel than Amazon ever could

because they don't have the intimate knowledge of the product vertical like you do.

And another thing that's true in Shopify stores that isn't true in Amazon stores is that the navigation experience becomes


useful shopping experience. As I said already in Amazon, it's mostly done through searches and there's a lot of searches done on Shopify stores also. But that navigation experience or the Browse shopping experience is also really important. And if you build that out properly, people are going to make a decision at a time from page to page to collection to product,

so that by the time they get to a product, you should have confidence and the customer should have confidence that they're on the right product page.

And if they're on the right product page, we don't want to be distracting them with other products and confusing that confidence they have on the products that they're looking at. So all those reasons are reasons that I don't like putting recommended products

onto the product page. Now, that said, there's always exceptions to the rule, so let's go over those exceptions and I'll give you some examples from clients of mine and real implementations that we've done with recommended products on the product page.

There's a couple of different scenarios where recommended products are appropriate for most of my clients in Shopify stores in general, and I'd put those into two big buckets. The first one is going to be complementary products. The second one is going to be upselling. So let's talk about that first one here. With a client of mine named Ortho bracing.

Now Ortho bracing sells cold therapy machines

and one complementary product for cold therapy machines is ice packs. Because in a cold therapy machine, you're putting ice into the machine and it's cooling water that flows through pads that helps you heal from surgery. So instead of putting fresh ice in, every time, you can just buy ice packs, freeze the ice packs, put them into the cold therapy machine.

And that way it's easier for you to

have fresh ice every time that you're you're running your cold therapy process. So on a cold therapy machine, a really natural recommended product is these ice packs.

but we did for Ortho bracing, which we did some custom code instead of just a recommended product section.

Most teams come with the recommended product section and we'll talk about that

in a little bit in this episode.

But in that recommended product section, you're separating out if you if you want to add that product to the cards, a separate decision from the product on the product page that you're on or you're going off to that separate product and you're losing your connection to the product that you were on.

So we did for Ortho bracing, it's sort of like a bundling


We did it programmatically by editing the code in the theme though,

and that gave us tighter control over the experience than if we'd brought in a third party app, which has its own rules set.

we did is we defined a couple meta fields for the bundled product.

And if those meta fields exist, we show the content in the product form where if you're on a cold therapy machine product page, you'll see frequently bought together promotion right above the add to cart button that says, Hey, you can get universal reasonable ice cubes

or the universal reusable ice bag packs and you can pick the size that you wanted a four pack or an eight pack and you could see the price.

And if you check the box on that,

we have in our code is if you hit the add to cart button,

it'll add both the product from the product page and the option that you picked, the ice pack option that you picked to the cart at the same time. So one add to cart click puts two products into the

And as I said, what we have is Medfield. So at the product level, if you go into the Shopify admin and you go to the any product page, you scroll down to the bottom of the meta fields, you can select what the bundled products are to show on that product form in the product page. And if those menu fields are blank, then we don't show a promotion.

So that's a nice way to have complementary products


people can easily add sort of like a bundle to their order. Now it does take some code customization to get it done, but it's not that heavy a code customization

So for my next example, I'm going to use Sharma Valley. Mico and what they have is an upsell product recommendation. So they have a lot of products. They're selling meats, beef and yak, and they also sell those products in bundles. So one of the times that I like to add product recommendation lines is when the Shopify store has bundles that include products.

So on a given page, for instance, New York strip steak for beef, if we scroll down on that product page, you'll see the bundles, including this strip steak, and it shows two bundles, the farmhouse, kitchen box number three in the farmhouse, kitchen box number four. And that way we're letting customers know that the product that they're on is actually also available in a bundle.

And they can save money if they purchase the bundle.

Now, this implementation I did using the Shopify is free app Search and Discovery, which allows you to have product recommendations and it helps you manage the Shopify product recommendation algorithm. Now what I do in that situation is I turn off the auto generation of recommendations. As I mentioned earlier, most Shopify stores don't have enough data, whether it's customers coming to the website

or the total volume of sales or the having more than one product in the cart when they place their order, all those different data elements, which usually not enough in most Shopify stores to get good automatic product recommendations

from the Shopify algorithm. So I turn off the auto generated recommendations and we just leave it to manual recommendations. So in the Search and Discovery app, I can go to the recommendations section,

bring up the product that I want to add a recommendation for, and then it allows me to search the product catalog and find the product that I want to add as an upsell.

And you can have more than one product. And the themes section will allow you to display the more than one product.

previously was showing two products in the upsell, and now I've just saved a third product as an upsell bundle. Also, if I go back to my website and refresh it, all three products will show up and then the customer can see all the different bundle options they have for that product.

one of the small challenges with this is most themes have a section that automatically shows the product recommendations, but it assumes that you're always going to have a product recommendation for every product. And if you have auto generated recommendations on that is actually true. But if you're using the logic that I like to use, we're only going to manually add recommendations for products and you turn off auto generation,

Then you have to go into that section code and edit the code a little bit so that it doesn't show the title for that section. If there are no manual product recommendations that you've added through the app,

that's a small edit in the liquid code. It's not too hard to do and it's worth doing to get the high quality only manual recommendations showing up on the site and not doing the auto recommendations.

So in my third example, it's with Youth in Earth who sells nutritional supplement. It's out of the UK. And what we're doing for them is just like with Sharma Valley, we're up upselling on the product page bundles that include that product.

But we didn't want to use the section that came with the theme. So we ended up doing is implementing it with our own section that we custom built

and we powered it with meta fields instead of the recommendation engine.

So in this case, we have to go to the product in the Shopify admin, scroll down to the midfield section. We've already created a definition for bundles which allows one or more products to be selected and we can just add products to that Meadow field and our code is done in such a way that if that many fields blank, it doesn't show any content on the product page.

But if the Met a field has

products assigned to it, it'll show those products

so the customer can then know

which bundles include the product that they're looking at.

In my last examples, a little bit more of a complex one, it's with a company called The Game Steward, and what they sell is Kickstarter board games. So what'll happen is, you know, anybody who's Kickstarter will know if you support a Kickstarter, there'll be multiple reward levels.

these guys are backing Kickstarters that include board games and they might buy 100 of each of the versions that are available in their Kickstarter to help that game get over their Kickstarter threshold.

And then they're reselling those to their customers down the road. So one game could have three or four different versions for all those different Kickstarter levels that were available. And sometimes games will have multiple runs that they'll do or

episodes or

versions over time. So we have this concept here of what we call franchises. So if I click on a game called Zomba side,

what we've done is we've created a taxonomy inside of our store in that this product that I'm looking at right now is actually called Marvel Zombies Call in Clash of the Sinister Six.

We don't display the colon on the product page and it actually looks like there's two lines. You know, the the franchise is what we call Marvel zombies. That's before the colon. And then the product title Clash of the center statistics is after the call. And we break that up into two separate lines. But we use this as a way to identify that a game's in a franchise.

So if we have a colon in the product title, we know that the game's in a franchise and then in code we do a second check, and that is to see if a collection exist with that franchise name. So we take the texturing from before the colon and see if we have a collection that has that same name.

And if we do, we say A the game is part of A franchise and B that franchise collection exists therefore show franchise promotions on that product page. So the first place we show franchise promotions is right below the add to cart button. And what we say is shop all Marvel Zombie games. So we look at the franchise name, we insert that in there and we'll let them know that, Hey, there's more than one game in this franchise.

You can look at them all to make sure you're getting the right version of the game that you're looking for. And if I click on that link, it takes me to the Marvel Zombies collection, and I can see there's 14 games that are available in that franchise collection. And there's also two games that are out of stock.

And then there's a second place on the product page where we allow customers to see what those different game versions in that franchise are.

And that is down at the bottom of the page. We have another Marvel Zombies or the franchise name promotion, and it's more of a product grid displaying some of the top games that are in that franchise. So twice on that page, we're allowing the customer to know that, hey, this game's part of the franchise and you can look at the other options that are available within that franchise.

So to do this, we had to put in custom code for both of those promotions on the product page. We also had to come up with that taxonomy of using the colon in the product title in making sure that we had collections that exactly matched what was before the colon, the product title, the franchise name and that's a little bit of a manual work that we had to put in place and, you know, enforce manually because you're no tool inside of Shopify to do that.

once you're matching that, that texturing for the franchise in the product title and in the collection, and it works out really, really well and that allows customers to cross navigate throughout the experience without getting lost on the context of the franchise that they were looking at.

So those are four implementations of product recommendations on the product page that I've done for clients of mine

and a quick summary of, you know, my recommendation for product recommendations

as you do them when you have complementary products that are really tightly tied to the product that people are looking at,

or when there's a good upsell opportunity or like for bundles or the franchises that you want to make people aware of the other options they have for this product.

Hopefully that helps you understand how you should be thinking about product recommendations in your Shopify store.

Thanks for listening.

JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.