Customer journeys as more than destinations, personalization, and organizing around customer experience—2018 e-commerce Trends.

Just yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the MITX E-Commerce Summit in Wayfair’s office above the Copley Mall in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. The location made for an interesting juxtaposition of new and old. Wayfair, being born from eCommerce, towered above brick and mortar retail’s iconic symbol: the mall.

A picture of Boston’s Copley Mall on the left, and on the right, the Wayfair offices in a tower rising from the mall.

Members of FullStory attended this summit to further understand the challenges faced by our growing number of e-commerce customers. Given FullStory's focus on empathy, educating ourselves in the trends and pain points faced by customers comes down to practicing what we preach.

A packed house for the MITX E-Commerce summit

Having listened to and digested the content-dense presentations from yesterday, I noticed three recurring trends in my notes:

  1. Websites being a part of the customer journey and not just the destination,
  2. The importance of personalization, and
  3. Organizing your workforce around customer experience.

1. Your website’s purpose is as much the journey as the destination.

Amazon is killing the buying, we need to kill the shopping.

— Steven Dennis, President of SageBerry Consulting

Build a site that does more than drive customers to the "Buy" Button.

— Dan Smith, GM Asics Digital

Speakers at the MITX conference urged attendees to rethink their websites’ purpose. Too often websites spend all their focus on creating a seamless buying experience without actually understanding what customers who come to their website want to do. Customers come to your site (or app) for all sorts of reasons[1]: to educate themselves about products, find store locations, and interact with customer support.

To better serve all of these different customer segments, you need to:

  1. Decide which customer segments are most important to address,
  2. Determine which segments your customers fall into, and
  3. Understand the entire customer journey associated with each segment.

Steve Dennis, President of SageBerry Consulting, urges retailers to be honest about these journeys. How easy is it really for these customer segments to serve themselves on your website? By understanding (and removing) newfound points of friction, it gives you the opportunity to make more successful connections and build better relationships with customers.

Why is the customer journey so important to retailers today? Because the scale of Amazon and Wal-Mart creates insurmountable challenges to compete on price and buying. Successful retailers must rethink their relationship with their customers, meeting them wherever they are on the customer journey.

2. Personalization matters.

Everyone likes to talk about their customer journey, but their homepage looks the same for every user.

Rob Garf, VP at SalesForce Commerce Cloud

How should my site change based on a customer journey, a first time runner wants different things than someone going for a PR in their next marathon.

Dan Smith, GM Asics Digital

After most speakers agreed that understanding the customer journey was paramount to creating a successful e-commerce business, they went on to describe personalization as a way to act on this newfound knowledge. How to best implement personalization, however, was a big difference point across speakers.

Evergage and Lenovo gave a joint presentation on how Evergage was able to dynamically display content to specific buyers on Lenovo’s website. This included everything from selectively offering promos to specific users to displaying product recommendations based on users’ persona. And all of this personalization is made possible through customer segmentation using machine learning techniques.

Devora Rogers, Murphy Research, argued that you don’t have to invest in machine learning to take the first steps toward personalization. Instead, retailers can apply insights from in-depth, industry research to better connect with the specific shopper types that are visiting their digital properties. Rogers then walked through her “5 Shopper Archetypes," from All Natural, Unique Shoppers to Thrill of the Deal Shoppers, and how to best serve each of these segments.

A slide on the 5 Shopper Archetypes from Devora Rogers, Murphy Research

If there was one thing the speakers could agree on, it’s that personalization is difficult. Using data as an advantage for analytics is one thing, but using it to operationally change a site as the information is being collected is another.

3. Organize your company around customer experience.

Most organizations are not coming together around CX.

— Peter Howard, MD at Accenture

Don’t have an e-commerce business tacked on to your retail business.

— Steve Dennis, President of SageBerry Consulting

Last, but certainly not least, was the recommendation to organize your company around customer experience. While understanding the customer journey and building personalized profiles of customers may lead to a more personalized experience, the benefits are limited to your company's ability to act on this data. Research from Jerry Kane, Professor at Boston College, found that the roadblocks to achieving digital maturity were more organizational than technological. Retailers that found themselves more digitally mature reported having empowered, cross-functional project teams around customer experience.

What separates the companies that are doing it right, is when they succeed they use that to drive change throughout their organization.

— Jerry Kane, Prof. at Boston College, Guest Editor for MIT Sloan Management Review

Meanwhile Trynka Shineman, CEO of VistaPrint, spoke about the importance of finding employees that can relate to and have empathy for their customers. And Matt Taylor, CEO at Tracksmith, expounded on how his product teams work directly above their store front, so customer access is as easy as walking down the stairs.

This resonated so well with me because of how we organize ourselves at FullStory. Our Hugging team, which interfaces directly with customers (of which I am proud to be a part of), acts as the central liason between customers and all internal teams at FullStory:

Our FullStory org chart. Hugging, our team in charge of customer experience, sits cross functionally between all other job families

Customer experience truly does sit at the intersection of every team at your company.


To outsiders, competing in e-commerce can seem like a nervous waiting game—domination by Amazon is inevitable, right?

Maybe not.

Successful retailers aren't sitting on their hands. They are competing to win based on their customer experience. They find ways to leverage brick & mortar and digital properties to meet customers wherever they may be on their journey[2]. They use personalization and organizational structure to create the best customer experience possible. Together, these efforts strengthen the relationship of retailers with their customers, increase brand loyalty, and, ultimately, build a moat around the business, warding off competitors.

Much was learned at the MITX e-commerce Summit, and I look forward to putting my newfound understanding of current eCommerce themes to work serving customers at FullStory.

  1. Identifying the reasons is a matter of determining the "Jobs to Be Done." Learn more about Clayton Christensen's Jobs-to-Be-Done Framework. ↩︎

  2. Indeed, even Amazon sees the value of brick & mortar having recently acquired Whole Foods while also beat-testing a "convenience store" called Amazon Go in Seattle. ↩︎