January 27, 2021

The Importance of Differentiating Customer Experience in Retail

The customer experience varies massively from one retailer to another. Some ecommerce websites are easy to navigate, making it a simple task to locate products and checkout. Others will offer the opposite experience, asking prospective customers to trawl through hundreds of irrelevant products before they find what they’re looking for, maybe giving up before they do. 

Finding that Illusive Competitive Advantage Through Improved Customer Experience

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. While retailers will inevitably hold differing perspectives on what good looks like, generally they will follow the same base 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. 

Standing out by Leveraging Product Customisation

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. 

Look objectively at the retail marketplace online, and it won’t escape your notice that 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. 

Differentiation Challenges

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. 

An Era of Brand Authenticity

It’s not just outward-facing changes that customers want to see.  Modern buyers today are looking for authenticity from brands.  They want to buy from brands that give a damn about the health of the planet and give back to communities.  Consumers can usually sense how an organisation is doing by their manner and 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. 


Brand authenticity goes beyond ‘good intentions.’  As Henry Ford put it, “You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.”   

Acting on Customer Feedback

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. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing customer experience leaders is the fact that most customers don’t feedback anything.  There is a known dynamic of customer satisfaction that says customers that are extremely unhappy, or extremely happy will generally want to exercise an opportunity to give feedback, but the majority of reasonably satisfied buyers won’t.  This makes is hard sometimes to source insight on how to improve.  A good customer experience depends on lots of thoughtful feedback; and acting on it. There’s a difference between taking a guess and implementing something in the hope it will increase sales and using in depth insights to discover what customers are asking for and putting that into place instead. 

Final Thoughts

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.  There are also some good signposting examples of how to maximize the influence of your brand from big brands like Disney, Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike and Virgin.  

For smaller enterprises, taking cues from bigger firms is one thing, but customer experience success normally comes from listening to customers, treating them fairly, responding to mistakes quickly, and going above and beyond to serve their discerning needs.