Retailers must get to know their customers on a deeper level and approach interactions with empathy in order to thrive in a post-Covid landscape, according to customer experience experts.

This is the view of VMLY&R chief experience officer Karen Boswell, and head of D2C and commerce Charlie Wade, who spoke at RWRC’s Consumer 2021 week


As part of a week of multichannel content about how to serve the future shopper, they shared insights on the impact of the pandemic on customer experience during their keynote event The Great Customer Experience Redesign.

“CX is a human and holistic way to solve both brand and business growth challenges,” said Boswell. “‘Human’ is about human-centred design thinking, being human for humans, and solving with that empathy-focused lens.”

She highlighted that after a turbulent 2020, retailers must remember their customers may have been both financially and emotionally impacted, and advised that this context should be front of mind when it comes to CX. 

“We’re not only designing for touchless digital experiences, but we also need to understand the context of the emotion and the feeling and the need around every instance across the journey,” Boswell said. 

Four major market shifts driven by customers

Wade noted that he does not believe the pandemic has changed the retail landscape, but it has instead accelerated the development of already established trends. He underlined four major market shifts: ecommerce; physical spaces; community; and customer promise. 

“The thing all four of these have in common is that it’s the customers that are demanding and driving the change. So retailers need to adapt their customer experience accordingly,” he said. 

Patagonia Worn Wear

Source: Patagonia

Patagonia’s Worn Wear scheme ‘thinks before and beyond the buy button’

How can they achieve this? 

According to the experts, as well as ensuring the customer journey is contextual and collaborative, retailers should relinquish some of their control to the customer and allow them to buy inventory on their terms, “whenever, wherever”.

Retailers should also focus on ensuring their customer experience is customised, said Boswell, which will help them to earn trust and subsequently gather first-party data that empowers them to deliver an increasingly personalised experience.  

Wade highlighted that brands rooted in purpose are rising above industry and societal upheaval – and that Gen Z consumers are driving much of this coronavirus-catalysed shift.

“In the future, might we see economic commitments like ‘every little helps’ give way to sustainability commitments like radical transparency?” he asked. 

He cited Patagonia’s Worn Wear upcycle scheme, which encourages consumers to buy less, as an example of why brands should now “think before and beyond the buy button” in order to ramp up customer trust and engagement rather than simply aiming to boost sales. 

“They’re giving themselves a position within the market and taking a stand,” said Wade.

Watch Consumer 2021 on demand

With leaders from the biggest retailers in the UK sharing insight from their organisations, as well as experts from outside the sector giving their expertise, this is a must-watch for any retailer who wants to succeed in 2021.

Sessions include:

  • Retail in 2020: who got it right?
  • The great customer experience redesign 
  • What you need to thrive during tough economic times 
  • The 2020 consumer trends that are here to stay

You can view the full programme here. To watch Tuesday’s session on demand click here and to watch Thursday’s session on demand click here.