Brands lose money on one-time buyers.

Pouring resources into customer acquisition but not into retention is ineffective. It takes time for new customers to become profitable. A Bain & Co. study titled “The Value of Online Customer Loyalty” found the average online apparel shopper wasn’t profitable for the retailer until he or she had shopped at the site four times, meaning the retailer had to retain the customer for 12 months just to break even.

Repeat customers are your bread and butter. The Bain study found a shopper’s 10th purchase is nearly 80 percent larger than the first.

So what is the magic ingredient that keeps customers loyal? Customer experience (CX). In a 2017 survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Blackhawk Network, 94 percent of the consumers surveyed said a consistently good customer experience is the main reason they remain loyal to a brand.

The importance of CX is clear: In the 2017 Gartner Customer Experience in Marketing Survey, more than two-thirds of marketing leaders responsible for CX said their companies compete mostly on the basis of customer experience.

Related Article: How to Deliver Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Customer Experience

What Makes Customer Experience Great?

It’s hard to properly define what that elusive great customer experience is, but a little thought experiment might help. Picture yourself walking into a large home improvement store. You haven’t slept all night because the faucet was leaking and you need to get it fixed. While there are some shoppers who either know exactly where to go or just love to walk around stores (browse the categories of a site, if you will), you’ve never fixed a faucet before and want help. And you don’t just want to learn where the right product is located — you also need advice on how to install it. So you find one of the knowledgeable employees, ask for help figuring out what you need, and leave the store more confident in your faucet-fixing abilities.

That would be a great customer experience.

As was the case in that hypothetical trip to the store, a great customer experience is all about helping the customer — helping people find what they need, inspiring them and making their lives a little easier.

In the digital experience, this is where content comes in. While many people like to talk about “inspirational content” and think “blog” when they think about content, it’s important to know that content is far more than that — though a good blog can be an incredibly valuable tool. Content also includes answers to frequently asked questions, product specifications, helpful guides and how-tos, visual merchandising, videos, photos, quizzes and much more. Above all, the purpose of content is to help and inform customers. As an added bonus, you can further increase your brand’s value if you make the expertise of your in-store employees available online for anyone, at any time, from any location.

Now that we have identified some of the more tangible aspects of a great customer experience, let’s take a look at some different approaches to bringing this content into digital commerce.

cx focus

Web Shop: Commerce Platform

The simplest sites are just basic online stores, with a pure commerce platform designed to show products in a traditional catalog style. The platform is relatively straightforward to implement, but provides limited capabilities for handling content. In most cases, the focus is on one specific channel, with no separation into multiple channels. This means customers might end up with a subpar experience, because the core focus is on the product catalog and the traditional funnel.

Narrative Commerce: Commerce Platform + CMS

The next step up from a basic web shop is a site that features narrative commerce. Basic commerce platforms cannot support narrative commerce because they are not designed to handle large volumes of content. Therefore, retailers that want to engage in narrative commerce need to add a content management system (CMS) to the mix. With a CMS, you can deliver content through microsites, landing pages or blogs. A possible drawback of this approach is a fragmented customer journey where shoppers get bounced back and forth between content pages and commerce pages. That can create challenges when you want to start introducing personalization capabilities.

Related Article: If E-Commerce Is Your Engine, Content Is the Driver

Experience Commerce: DXP + Commerce

Retailers can make the biggest jump in customer experience by adopting a digital experience platform (DXP). A DXP brings together all the elements of content and commerce to build a seamless customer experience across channels and systems. Content is no longer limited to specific sections of the site, it is embedded in the complete customer experience, on any device. On top of that, a proper DXP will be capable of personalizing both content and products to ensure the relevance of all that is shown.

As a bonus, a digital experience platform offers flexibility because it integrates with other platforms through APIs. This allows you to easily add new services to the platform, making it possible to innovate quickly. The separation APIs provide also makes it a lot easier to modify existing services, which enables your IT team to continually optimize and iterate.

However, adopting a full DXP is not for everyone, because you will need to have some technical skills to make this powerful technology work for you. 

Learning Opportunities

Let’s look at a couple of points to consider before investing in a digital experience platform.

1. Play the Long Game When Getting Started With Content

The graph below highlights the different stages of content marketing maturity. Most companies tend to get stuck in Stage 3, where it seems like the initial investment does not pay off. Most of the time, the reason for this is not immediately clear. However, investigation of analytics data commonly shows customers are getting lost and do not find their way back to where you want them to be and, more important, where they want to be. This leads to the assumption that content is hurting conversion, but in reality the problem might arise from the fact that the content is completely separated and is creating a dead end for the customer journey.

content marketing maturity

Companies that have restructured their approaches (for example by making content shoppable or having proper personalization on content and products) seem to be on a path to success. They understand it takes time to learn what works and what doesn’t work, but they stay committed to their customers and the experiences they have.

2. Be Ready for Tomorrow: Commerce That Comes to You

Another reason to think about this from a long-term perspective is the fact that, according to a recent Gartner report (subscription required), “by 2020, 25 percent of leading online sellers will have enabled first-generation ‘commerce that comes to you’ capabilities.”

Commerce that comes to you is a whole new approach to commerce, one that requires a completely new way of thinking. Commerce could “come to you” in a number of ways — through interface-free internet of things devices or, possibly, smart mirrors that suggest what clothes you should wear (and what accessories to buy).

It takes time for a retailer to grow into a “commerce that comes to you” experience. It involves setting up an API-based foundation of content and commerce that will create a flexible foundation that can be delivered, contextually, to any touchpoint. It means that you’ll be building a digital business today that can rapidly adapt to the customer expectations of tomorrow.

Related Article: Let Customers Decide in a Push Me, Pull Me World

Content Is Gold Dust

When you focus on the customer experience, you won’t see instant results. Finding the right approach will not be as straightforward as you might hope it would be. You need forward-thinking IT and marketing teams who are bold enough to try new experiences, and they will need the right tools so they can experiment, measure and iterate.

Ultimately, no matter where you start with content, your teams and your whole organization need the freedom to build upon the experience. That is where a content platform with robust APIs comes in — one that encourages integrations with your commerce platform and customer data between channels and any critical data source you use (or want to use). With this type of platform, you can start with one step and continually scale.

Content is truly gold dust when building relationships with your customers. Whether you are helping shoppers find presents for their kids by offering guidance about what’s cool (or not) in middle school these days, or making it clear that a certain lens will work with a new camera, or showing you share their values by highlighting the sustainability of your products, or offering a step-by-step tutorial on faucet repair, good content makes you a brand that helps. 

In a time where people are overwhelmed with options at every turn, an experience that is actually helpful feels like a breath of fresh air — and keeps your customers coming back.

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