Last updated: Retailers, the customer experience is much more than just a frill

Retailers, the customer experience is much more than just a frill


A few weeks ago, my 2-year-old son realized that playing outside in the warm summer weather was more fun than watching Peppa Pig’s videos on his mama’s mobile phone.

Thrilled by having the device back for a precious few minutes of personal use, I started browsing the web for a new handbag, found one I liked on the app of a large online fashion retailer, clicked the purchase button, got excited, but the fun didn’t last long. What happened after this moment made me realize that, while “customer experience” may be a trendy buzzword on many a retailers’ lips, their view of it sometimes remains shortsighted.

Too often is the whole “experience” story is still confined to creating banner ads that are nice enough to drive people to commerce sites, with the goal of pushing a(ny) product to a(nonymous) consumers as quickly as possible…and praying for them not to get back in touch again soon with customer service claims (remarketing, anyone?).

Moving on to finalizing my shopping cart, although I was a registered customer and saved my preferred settings in the past already, the system asked me to add a new billing address for no apparent reason. When trying to do so (no need to describe how comfortable it is to write a full mail address, with one hand only, on a smartphone), I got an error message saying the action could not be completed. Three times!

Even after restarting the app, there was no way of completing my purchase. Now, as I did not want my hard-earned shopping time to be completely wasted, I refused to back down and bought the handbag the day after on the retailer’s desktop website.

Having worked in the software industry for a decade, I know that sometimes “bugs” happen. I would have excused the error with the app, had the retailer tried to repair it. Unfortunately, no one on the retailer’s side, ever reached out to me, not a single email or phone call.

Since then, they instead kept on “caring” about me as a customer by sending the usual, standardized “special offer” SMS or emails on products I am not interested in. Three weeks have passed—a geologic period, in a digital world where the lifespan of a tweet is documented to be 18 minutes—and I still bump into banner ads on third-party apps promoting the bag I already bought.

So far, “irritating” is the most polite euphemism I can think of to describe my experience.

Had I felt too discouraged and decided to drop my purchase, the retailer would not only have lost a sale, but maybe a customer altogether. What’s even worse to my mind: they wouldn’t even have been able to detect it.

Meditating about the whole episode, I came up with three takeaways:

First, even alleged leaders in online commerce are still a long way to go when it comes to customer experience, whose potential is too often underestimated as a “marketing tool” only serving the purpose of short-term sales objectives.

Second, for companies that, on the contrary, are successful in delivering great omni-channel experiences today, technology has acted as a catalyst in helping them shift their mindset toward achieving a sustainable business and digital transformation, one that helps them truly engage with their customers in the longer run.

And third, I definitely have too many handbags.

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