Customer experience: What does it really mean for online retailers?


Welcome to 2018; welcome to an all-changing and all-challenging online retail landscape filled with hyper-adoption and hyper-abandonment, disruptive technology and customer experience obsession.

Welcome to the ‘age of the customer’.

Of course, this is not strictly a 2018 ‘thing’. We have been on our way to the ‘age of the customer’ for quite a while, but 2018 will see this concept crystallised like never before.

This article is part of: Customer Experience In Online Retail – The Definitive Guide (Updated for 2018)

It can be hard to keep up with such rapid change, so this article explains what kind of customer experience that online retail shoppers expect in 2018.

What is it and what does it really mean?

Today’s online retail customers are always on the go. Smart phone in-hand, coffee-table tablet fully-charged, their ‘Alexa’ tuned-in to their every query, request and demand. Research tells us that the average online US adult had 6.7 connected devicesthat’s 6.7! That is up from 4 devices from 2016.

During last October’s IMRG podcast on new technology for online retail (featuring UserReplay’s Data Scientist, Ming Gao) we learned that the growing enthusiasm for the adoption of new tech is a game-changer for the online retailer. 

Customers are constantly connected, creating this ‘new age’ for online retail and retailing in general.

‘I got the Power’

Yup – Snap said it best!

There has been a power-shift of fairly epic proportions at work behind the scenes.

Traditionally, retailers held all the cards. It was the retailer that set the price and the location for customers to visit them. Retailers had to ‘push’ out their branding, their messaging, and their promise and put it before the eyes of the customer. It was the retailers’ role to educate and inform on their offering.

Today, we find ourselves in an entirely different position. Connected customers have all the information they require at their fingertips and are fully empowered. There is even a good chance they know more about your products, your promotion, your messaging and brands than you do.

A customer can buy anything they wish, from any location they desire, with the device of their choosing;

So yes, it is entirely possible for Gary from Alaska to book a club 18-30 holiday to Ibiza on their Kindle Fire at 4am – it MUST happen!

An efficient and flexible online retail customer experience is what the shopper desires, no doubt, but be under no illusion; the customer is firmly in control!

The fact they are in the driver’s seat is a bit of a challenge admittedly, but that said, it’s still an incredible time to be in online retail! The barriers to entry have never been lower, but then, neither has customer loyalty and to survive and thrive in the ‘age if the customer’, you simply have to do more to stay ahead whilst clawing back a little of that power. Easy! Right?  

Great Expectations

Customer expectations are incredibly high. They expect a stellar online experience no matter how or where their journey begins. New disruptive tech has the capacity to capture more customer information and provide granular details on these interactions which is hugely powerful, but, they also drive the expectation ever higher.

The customer demands a personalised and conversational experience, not just from their ‘Alexa’ device at home on their kitchen worktop, but all the way through their journey to your website.

Retailers have an opportunity, like never before to really get to know their customers, peel back the layers and design the ‘perfect journey’ with them in mind. This is the way to go, as Forrester will tell you in a recent report, ‘the key to successful retailing in 2018, is obsessing about customer experience’.

Sounds like good advice…but where to start?

Two floors down

The key to being truly customer obsessed doesn’t lie in fancy tool suites and protracted transformation projects – Yay!

It’s actually right in front of you (well down a couple of floors, or maybe a couple of doors along the corridor, or perhaps at the other side of your open plan office…the side you rarely venture to.)

The key to truly seamless online CX is the team that have the same focus and goals as you do in the online retail team, they just have different names for them. They are 100% focussed on the smooth and successful delivery of the online product and that is pivotal to awesome online CX – it’s your IT/Development team.

Makes sense, but you’d be surprised just how many companies don’t make the connection on this.

One of the biggest and most debilitating factors impacting the delivery of the required level of online retail customer experience is old-school, organisational silos.

Silos: best avoided in online retail operations

These silos make it nearly impossible to get a holistic view of the customer and fail to utilise the data gathered at varying points by different teams throughout their online interaction with your company. These traditional silos do nothing but impede the success of an organisation and the delivery of great customer experience.

More often than not, IT and online retail teams work in isolation from each other…with just about everything actually; tool suites, success metrics, work cycles, right down to where their desks are. There is often mis-alignment between these teams because of their different approaches which can have a huge impact on customer experience.

At the heart of this lies a key reality – if your IT and online retail teams are ‘not working towards a common goal of knowing your customers and using deep insights to meet their needs — while bringing greater value to the business — then critical revenue share is almost certainly being lost’.

Continue to operate back to back and the ‘Age of the Customer’ could cost your online business.

Perhaps it’s time to change…


With IT and online retail teams seeing eye to eye and organisational silos broken-down, data becomes accessible to yield deeper, cross-functional insights and as a direct result, great customer experiences in online retail.

Further reading

Learn even more about customer experience by downloading the latest ebook from UserReplay Meet in the Middle



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