Customer Experience Roundtable: What Top Ecommerce Leaders Are Focused on Right Now

“The market is unreasonable.”

With this surprising statement, one participant kicked off the energized and rollicking conversation earlier this week at Ortus Club’s “Designing More Intuitive CX in Beauty” roundtable.  To an outsider, this might seem like a curious jumping-off point. Still, it was clear that everyone in the meeting knew precisely what this contributor meant with their statement and the discussion that followed was nothing short of dynamic and inspiring.   So inspiring that we feel compelled to share some of the high-level points made as participants generously shared the top challenges and priorities along their path to deliver the ultimate 1:1 customer experience (CX) for their website visitors.

The attendee list was an impressive rundown of global marketing/CX leaders from beauty brands; some very well-known in North America and some focused on breaking into new markets here.  As builders, it’s hard to express how thrilling it is for us to get together with a group of smart, focused customer experience and marketing leaders to hear from them directly how they are looking at solving their brands’ needs for website personalization. Our core motivation is to build a tool that listens to customers like a friend would listen, not like a spy who wants to serve them ads for the next six months, and we felt like we were in the right room.

We’re looking forward to seeing what comes next for everyone in the group, but in the meantime, here’s what was on everyone’s mind at the round table.

Summary doodle 1 from "Designing More Intuitive Customer Experience in Beauty" roundtable discussion

“The Market Is Unreasonable”

This statement was not necessarily a complaint.  In fact, this attendee’s opening assertion was a shorthand that everyone on the call could relate to and that any marketers or digital customer experience professionals reading likely can too. 

It refers to a challenge that many of us face; we sell incredible products and we’re burning tons of calories working to make sure they’re reaching the people they can help the most.  Along the way, our brands and digital customer experiences are getting compared to the CX of giants such as Amazon, Wayfair, and Wal-Mart.  Great company to keep, to be sure, but a big game that takes loads of work to compete in. 

What does delivering a remarkable customer experience journey have to do with the quality or efficacy of your brand’s products? 

Nothing. 

It has nothing to do with those things, and yet, without immense strategic and tactical focus on building an outstanding CX, you may find your products languishing on their virtual shelves while your organization collectively scratches its head, wondering where to begin untangling its sales problem.

Purchase Path Velocity

Another critical area of focus that had the entire room nodding their heads was the push toward ever-improving purchase path velocity and the perhaps adjacent point of conversion to a second transaction. 

This is a subject we think deeply about at Automat because our entire product thesis is that the number one gating element to purchase conversion is when the visitor cannot discern if a product meets their needs.  (Tellingly, 89% of the Ortus round table executives felt that consumers are hindered in making confident purchase decisions since it’s unclear how product benefits meet the consumer’s individual needs!)

The solution, from our perspective, is to put much greater emphasis on helping the visitor ascertain product fit, and there is a great deal of data to suggest that people will tend to spend longer on your site as long as they feel like they are on the path to deciding with greater certainty.  To this point, the whole room agreed very strongly that the quizzes are a sub-optimal solution and not great for bypassing this formidable customer experience roadblock.

Summary doodle 2 from "Designing More Intuitive Customer Experience in Beauty" roundtable discussion

Omnichannel Customer Experience Personalization

There was also a great deal of tactical discussion about how brands are leveraging various platforms and trends in social media.  One challenge with these platforms that seems never to diminish is that a seemingly inordinate amount of resources end up going into chasing strategy and optimization for emerging and emergent platforms. This trend leaves many marketers feeling like efforts to improve digital customer experience on their owned web properties, such as their corporate/consumer websites, may be lacking focus, energy, and funding.

We’re hoping that with the new challenges that iOS 14 and other web security measures are presenting to the current advertising models, companies will consider moving some of that digital ad spend and focus on to improving CX through better personalization of the 1:1 journeys happening on their sites every day.  Data is still emerging, but so far, our analyses are showing significant evidence to suggest that higher degrees of personalization lead to conversion 2-3 times more often and within less time.  (More to come on this exciting trend as more data becomes available.)

Despite the current trend toward social commerce, it’s also worth considering the following metaphor when strategizing the role of social media platforms in your brand customer experience journey, and we’ll get to the “why” in a minute. 

People visit downtowns for the cultural/commercial elements.  They appreciate the restaurants, art, music, shopping, and other clustered opportunities within a vibrant downtown area.  Nobody visits a downtown because they enjoy driving on the road that takes them there.

This metaphor is a great philosophy to help inform digital marketing (for reasons we’re about to dip into below) because it reminds us that the hub of our strategy should always be our owned properties, e.g. our website.  Social media and advertising are fantastic ways to connect with customers and prospective customers, build interest, serve brand marketing content, and introduce products or special offers, but all of these “roads” should lead back to our own websites.   But why?

First-Party Data vs. The Invisible Customer

Social commerce and partnering with the big e-comm platforms are excellent means to an end but, as B2C sales channels, they are flawed, and the flaws are likely going to continue to worsen for the foreseeable future.

The fact is, the greater your reliance on third-party platforms, the further you distance yourself from the actual customers you seek to serve.  We’re not suggesting that the intermediation and subsequent relative customer anonymity these platforms create is necessarily nefarious; it’s a great way to protect consumers’ privacy, and we are big fans of that protection.  It’s just that the unavoidable, fundamental truth of serving others effectively is that service starts with clearly understanding the need, and first-party data is the best possible way to achieve this.  First-party data that all attendees agreed is both a challenge and a priority to obtain.

Summary doodle 3 from "Designing More Intuitive Customer Experience in Beauty" roundtable discussion

The Future of The Digital Customer Experience

Like any worthy idea supported by a range of effective enabling technologies (and other resources!), this conversation and the associated focus areas will continue to evolve.  At the heart of it all, the most encouraging takeaway from the discussion was that marketers DO care about helping their customers.  Further, the group clearly understands as a whole the need to tailor their marketing, product, and sales messaging as close to 1:1 as they can possibly get.  Expressed in terms of business outcome goals, 92% of attendees said their website could meaningfully benefit from a greater level of personalization, with 92% citing the potential for increased sales and 83% pointing to higher consumer engagement.

It seems that for many, the challenge gating new initiatives right now lies in building ROI cases, a challenge that our team continues to dig into deeper.  As you have already read above, the data is already clearly pointing to web personalization resourcing as a high-yield area of focus.

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