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How To Deliver a Leading Digital Customer Experience in Online Retail

By Maru/edr

By Liana Vickery - Head of Marketing at Maru/edr 

Online retail shows absolutely no sign of slowing down from the exponential growth we’ve seen in the past few years. 

A reported £1.9 trillion was spent online by consumers in 2016. With forecasts predicting a 23% growth rate over the next twelve months, it’s vital to the future success of businesses that their online customer experiences are the very best they can be.

A great customer experience is a major driver of revenue – customers who walk away happy are over two times more likely to part with more of their cash. Retailers should assess their end-to-end digital customer experience with an understanding of best practice in that area.

As consumers are set to spend even more online in 2017, we explored what it takes to deliver a leading digital customer experience, and uncovered four key trends where retailers will compete over the next 12 months.

1. Ease and functionality matter above all else

It is hard to believe that that famous HBR article “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” is now six-and-a-half years old. Even harder to believe is that in the subsequent years we’ve consistently seen big retail brands still trying to do just that – while almost always coming up short.

Maru/edr’s latest retail report highlighted, yet again, the importance of ease and functionality to a great customer experience. Retailers who sacrifice fundamental elements of site usability for new aspects – such as large, striking images that focus on inspiration and visual aesthetics – don’t perform as well.

If your site is poorly laid-out with confusing navigation options, your chances of seeing a sizeable bounce rate are significantly higher. If your potential customer thinks that browsing your site will be a struggle, they’ll be instantly put off, and will likely leave without even making it past the homepage.

New features or ‘wow’ moments cannot come at the expense of key functionality that shoppers now come to expect. Only when you get the basics right, can you then really delight your customers and add value through innovation and exciting features.

2. Instant gratification is key to success

Building on the importance of ease and functionality, instant gratification has become a key component of a great online experience. Studies suggest that 50% of web users expect a site to load within two seconds and would consider abandoning a site after three. And especially consider the mobile user; you absolutely cannot rely on the patience of your visitor, and even less so when they’re more likely to be multi-tasking or second-screening. Smartphone and tablet shoppers are generally more susceptible to distraction and competing stimuli.

But instant gratification is about more than just speed – it runs through the whole online customer journey. It’s about anticipating shopper’s needs and tailoring site experiences to suit, like including a well-placed and appropriate customer review or a list of recommendations based on past-purchase history. It’s about delivering on expectations of shoppers as soon as possible, so when you say ‘proceed to checkout’, the customer is not faced with a several hidden steps before actually getting there. It’s about the promise of next-day delivery and – for lack of a better word – delivering on that guarantee. 

The modern consumer has a one-click mentality. It is vital that instant gratification dovetails ease and functionality to meet the demands that that brings.

3. Blending the boundaries between online and in-store

We have started to see a number of new online initiatives designed to encourage customers back to the high street. It’s an outcome of the well-documented drop in footfall across UK stores. Retailers are hoping to capitalise on the increasing time spent by customers browsing for deals on their smartphones.

While click & collect has long been the stalwart of online/in-store synergy, there are new attempts designed specifically to convert online browsing trends into numbers through the door. 

Store stock searches and filters are an increasingly popular feature of online sites. It allows a customer to do a pre-purchase search for stock in their local store. The intention is to encourage them to go to that store and make the purchase.

While they are currently not among the fundamentals of a great digital experience, results show that shoppers favour new functions such as this. As such they’re likely to become an expected feature of most sites.

4. Personal commerce

Most sites now use cookies and most online consumers are increasingly aware of what that means. Rather than treating it like the elephant in the room, brands should be open with – and look to make full use of – the information they are gathering to create a tailored experience for their customers. 

Excellent satisfaction ratings come with features that utilise clear product information, browsing trends, customer reviews, relevant media content, inspiring ideas and tailored guides. Those are the elements of online retail that promote ease and functionality, while also seeking to personalise the experience and make the customer feel that the brand is working with them to achieve their specific task.

It requires a certain sensitivity, and a balance of service and sales. A customer subjected to aggressive up-selling and cross-selling will only feel like the retailer is trying to shove more products down their throat. But having been seamlessly guided to the best product for them, the shopper will leave with a purchase, and a positive feeling about the brand.

To deliver a winning digital customer experience requires tapping into vast resources of data and analytics, utilising information held about customers and integrating accordingly.

Kat Hughes, Associate Director for Retail at Maru/edr: “There is a speed at which the modern consumer lives their life, and if retailers cannot keep up then they will simply be left behind in favour of those that can.

“What we’re seeing is a competitive landscape where industry leaders are constantly innovating and everyone else is racing to keep up. It is easy to get carried away with talk of checkout-less stores, drone delivery, and anticipatory technology but 2017 should be about a consolidation of online best practice – so that a clear, quick navigation and purchase process can provide a strong platform for future innovation.”


Trends and results are taken from Maru/edr’s latest Digital Customer Experience Retail Benchmark report. Read more about the changes in online retail - including exclusive industry comment on Instant Gratification and the need for more now - by downloading your own free copy directly from the Maru/edr site.