The year 2020 was meant to be when the global population of online shoppers reached more than two billion people. But the nature of 2020 has made those stats irrelevant, and accelerated the speed at which eCommerce is growing. But what’s been lost in the process of creating the fast, convenient modern online shopping experience? UneeQ’s Experience Designer, Kartika Blackman, and Mark Hattersley a look.


“To be or not to be?” For retailers in 2020, that’s no longer the question. Even before events at the start of the decade forced traditional businesses to become eCommerce businesses, the verdict was already in. Selling online is the present, not the future.

The big question now wasn’t once uttered in the works of William Shakespeare, but it still demands to take centre-stage. How do retailers give a consistent and excellent customer experience across their various online and in-store channels?

For many people, shopping in a store with a customer service agent is still the gold standard. Personally, instead of making my way through the often inadequate website search engine to find my item, I’d much rather be directed by a product expert who can give me tips, advice and lend his or her expertise. 

I know not everyone will agree. Some prefer not to ask questions of in-store assistants for fear of being judged on their perceived lack of knowledge. Whether it’s for convenience or to shop more leisurely, people are going online to shop, where that human expertise and interaction is completely missing.

Digital humans working in retail can bring back the benefits of a customer service rep to an online shopping experience. In fact, it’s something I’ve been working on for some time, with the goal of putting back what’s been lost in the race to do everything digitally. In many ways, doing this is replicating the human interactions people have traditionally had with customer service reps in a store – to connect with shoppers in the way they’re most used to. 

Here are some eCommerce customer experience strategies we’ve recently been using to bring a digital human into a retail app or website, which you might also like to consider for your own eCommerce CX strategy.

1. Aiding product discovery from the start

Some 50% of online sales are lost because visitors can’t find what they are looking for.

During the in-store experience, that’s rarely an issue. Customers will often hail down a customer service rep when they need assistance in a store, or they’ll accept a “do you need help” request from a rep. This rep facilitates the browsing experience by directing the customer to the relevant department or product lines early on in the experience. 

Likewise a digital human assistant can greet app or website users up front, and take them to their desired browsing pages through a simple voice (or text) interaction. 

Much like when being greeted by a real shop assistant, the consumer may say “no thanks, I’m just browsing”. The important part is the offer to help, and the emotional connection that forms when you create that level of care.

As noted in Forbes: “Emotion plays a role in shopping behavior. There is a human side of in-store shopping and shoppers crave that visceral experience.”

The statistics appear to agree. According to Sitel Group, nearly three in four shoppers (70%) say they favor speaking to human customer service reps over chatbots and the like – despite the convenience of the latter. Unfortunately, that’s previously not possible in eCommerce, except now through a digital human interface.

So, just like a real rep, the digital human assistant aids discovery as a first touch point, and makes sure that the first touchpoint is a human one.

2. Creating a worthwhile on-screen retail experience

After welcoming you into the store, a member of staff doesn’t follow you around as you browse, leaning over your shoulder to whisper recommendations in your ear without being prompted. No, in-store reps are nearby when you need them, and (ideally) are just a call away.

Similarly in an online experience, a customer might take some time to browse independently and at their leisure. But when they need more information, advice needs to be close by and delivered promptly.

Almost half (45%) of US customers say they’re likely to abandon an online purchase if they can’t quickly find an answer to their questions.

The digital human eCommerce customer experience delivers the responsive support people get when browsing in brick-and-mortar stores, online. 

However, the online assistant has to be secondary to the visual browsing interface. The user must be able to freely browse through products on their devices without interruption, for the sake of a great on-screen user experience, similar to what people have in a store. 

It’s a fine balancing act. The assistant must not be overbearing in their on-screen presence, but clearly available on request. Without that instantaneous support, people will leave the shopping experience to find their answers – and potentially a different retailer who provides those answers – elsewhere.

Fortunately, the more people become familiar with the way virtual assistants and the like work, the more ubiquitous asking a digital human for help becomes.

3. A human approach to privacy

When it comes to paying for your items in store at a checkout, the assistant will follow an almost unspoken piece of human etiquette. Even though they can’t see your PIN number as you’re pushing it into the keypad, they’ll naturally look away.

That’s something we’ve considered in the digital human online shopping experience.

When users arrive at the checkout, privacy becomes the driving factor in completing a sale. Where users input bank account details and sensitive personal information, it is important that the digital human is temporarily disabled – or, theoretically, they could look away as a real human would.

There may be a perceived intrusion of data if the digital human assistant is still actively listening to the user, which isn’t ideal when you consider 62% of consumers say they’re not confident about data security when shopping online anyway. 

But even if that security concern is non-existent with an online shopping assistant, managing these types of user experience moments matters, to protect and build the emotional connection and trust customers build with the digital human and ultimately the brands they work for.

Why the eCommerce customer experience matters

The 2020 pandemic forced countless businesses online. Innovation that used to take three months now takes three weeks. Chocolate extraordinaires Lindt launched their online store in only five days, for example.

But while fast innovation is a tool to survival for many retailers, creating a great eCommerce customer experience is incredibly important for those who want to lead in the industry. Why?

According to BigCommerce, for the first time ever on Cyber Monday 2019, the majority of online shopping visits came from mobile devices – with sales revenues via smartphone alone reaching US$2 billion.

A great customer experience lets retailers take a bigger slice of that billion-dollar prize. Brands with great customer experience bring in 5.7 times more revenue than those who lag in the CX space.

On the other side, more than half (57%) of all online shoppers say they’ve stopped buying from a retailer because of one bad experience –or a competitor offered a better one.

If you want to be a CX leader in retail, you have to look at putting back what the modern online shopping experience has naturally stripped away – human conversation, connection and personalized service. Service with a smile made retail, and it’ll no doubt be a big part of the future of retail, even in the cold but convenient eCommerce age.