The customer experience varies massively from one retailer to another. Some customers will visit an ecommerce website and find it easy to navigate, quickly locate the product they’re looking for and checkout. Others will have the opposite experience, having to trawl through hundreds of irrelevant products before they find what they’re looking for, maybe giving up before they find it.

It’s no secret that each customer has their own unique way of shopping online, something that has been analysed for years in order to fully understand what the customer experience should look like. Of course, different retailers have a slightly different view of this, but generally they follow the same principle: you may think that your customer experience is strong, but if your customers don’t, that’s ultimately what your customer experience is, in practice.

Differentiating your brand in such a competitive market isn’t easy, but product configuration is a perfect example of how to do it. Established brands make small changes to their customer experience all the time – a sitemap update or a new payment system – but how does that make them stand out? It doesn’t take much to work out that doing what is expected by the customer isn’t enough to have an edge.

There’s no doubt that product configuration gives you the edge. Retailers claim to be different to each other, in price range, product quality and ethics, but really, they are all results of the same idea – creating products customers love in order to make profit. For some customers though, buying the same old product that’s been made, seen and worn a thousand times isn’t enough – they want to stand out, in exactly the same way that brands do.

If you look objectively at the retail marketplace online, the number of brands who offer product customisation is massively outnumbered by the amount that don’t. Customers like to feel as if their favourite brand knows them and most importantly, cares about them. In recent years, online shopping has become our go-to, meaning that differentiating customer experience has become even more important.

Users of big brand sites such as Spotify and Amazon benefit from product recommendations, showing that the companies take time to learn about their shopping habits and want them to continue as a loyal customer. They may not offer the chance to customise products – another popular configuration – but they stand out from other brands by personalising the experience.

The challenges in differentiating customer experience is that often customers aren’t truthful about how they feel. Because of the high levels of competition within the retail industry, people may feel dissatisfied with their experience, but instead of complaining, they just leave and don’t come back. Not just that, but they will go to a competitor in search of a better experience.

This means that a large part of discovering why customer experience matters to your brand and by how much, is spending time and money on conducting comprehensive customer feedback, using the data to decide what your strategy should be.

It’s not just outward-facing changes that customers want to see, they can usually sense how an organisation is doing by the way they operate. If a brand is known to have a strong company culture and a good reputation for customer satisfaction, they’re more likely to succeed when implementing a configurator. However, if the way they operate is questionable and it doesn’t seem like employees are well-looked after, that’s going to impact how customers ultimately behave.

Although it’s common for customers not to comment when they’re unhappy, there are, of course, those who make it perfectly clear either directly or via online reviews, in the same way as when they are overjoyed by the service they’ve received. Paying attention to these reviews in a timely and sympathetic manner is not only a way to turn loyal customers into your biggest fans, but also to take cues from what they are saying.

Customer experience is about more than just making small changes. There’s a difference between taking a guess and implementing something in the hope that it’ll increase sales, and using in depth insights to discover what customers are asking for and putting that into place instead.

The journey to a truly unique customer experience doesn’t happen overnight, but there’s enough research to suggest what modern, digitally switched on brands should be doing. Big brands are usually a great example, but there are sometimes question marks over the way they conduct their research and whether it’s ethical. The great thing about being a start-up and finding out what differentiating means, is that there’s already a roadmap laid out and all you have to do is work out which techniques you take on and which you discard, at least until you’ve collected greater insight.

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