The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on our consumer habits, and not just in the way we use digital services. Walmart, the biggest retailer in the U.S., recently announced that their online sales surged an incredible 74% in the last quarter compared to a year ago. Paying attention to the development of digital services and eCommerce platforms pays off, as it creates a solid foundation for providing a successful customer experience in the digital environment.
It’s safe to say that the term Digital eXperience Platform, or DXP, isn’t something you’re likely to encounter in everyday use. Gartner defines it as an "integrated and cohesive piece of technology designed to enable the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences across multiexperience customer journeys”. Not exactly something that would accidentally roll off your tongue. Let’s take a closer look at what this actually means.
What is a Digital eXperience Platform?
Let’s start by examining the meaning of “multiexperience customer journey,” which to many may sound like jargon in itself. The phrase refers to a customer journey that your customer goes through when using your digital service. This digital customer journey doesn’t need to start at a particular place; instead, it may have multiple points of entry, such as digital advertising, a Google search, or social media. It can also blend with your brick-and-mortar store experience, if your customer searches for further information and reviews on your store, uses digital coupons, or places an order for a size not available at the store. The journey can also start from and switch between multiple different devices, ranging from computers to mobile phones.
More often than not, the experience is not entirely linear. Your customers may pay multiple visits to your digital channels to learn about your products and services as well as your company. This is why the multiexperience customer journey is often far more complex than a physical customer journey and requires the company to adopt a different mindset to succeed. Creating the journey requires a good understanding of customer behavior and demands a lot from the digital customer experience platform.
Optimization of contextualized digital experiences
If you believe you have a good understanding of the journey, and you know where the journey has started and at which point it currently is, you can start optimizing the contextualized digital experiences. Here, a crucial role is played by data and particularly the ability to make sense of the information provided by multiple sources of data. A combination of analytics, customer data, third-party data and so on enables you to personalize your experience. Utilizing the mobile dimension in particular will allow you to further contextualize your experience with location data or by mixing our physical reality with the digital world through virtual or augmented reality.
A digital environment will also help you to optimize your experience, as it enables you to quickly test different approaches and to accurately measure the results. For example, it’s possible to examine how different messages, options, or campaigns work with different audiences. Once you have identified what works, scaling becomes much faster.
Composition, management and delivery of a digital customer experience
Let’s now take a look at “composition, management, delivery of a digital customer experience”. You would think that this is where things start to get easier, since having an easily accessible content management tool and an eCommerce platform is often all you need. However, underestimating this part of the experience can lead to problems further down the line.
According to the study “Retail reimagined: The New Era for Customer Experience”, published by McKinsey in 2020, high-quality content, fast load times, easy navigation, and a visually appealing interface are becoming increasingly important for a good digital customer experience. When it comes to the digital purchase experience, quick delivery times, quick and easy payment and no-questions-asked refunds are gaining importance. And when talk turns to the mixing of the physical and digital customer experience, interest in mobile ordering and mobile payment is shown to be on the rise worldwide.
The demands for content management tools and eCommerce platforms are not about to dwindle despite the maturity of the market. The market and its requirements are changing constantly, providing endless opportunities to improve the digital customer experience. Chatbots, which have recently become widespread, serve as a good example. Combined with AI, they can improve a company’s customer experience and make it more personalized. According to the McKinsey study mentioned above, hyperlocality and personalization are becoming critical factors in the creation of a good customer experience. If you want to benefit from them, you will need data as well as opportunities for personalization – both of them being things that a good digital customer experience platform can offer.
The building blocks of an “integrated and cohesive” digital experience platform
The very basic building blocks of a digital experience platform include content management and eCommerce platforms in addition to payment service providers. When implemented correctly, they reduce your workload, enable high-quality content, and create a seamless purchase experience. Depending on the size and complexity of your business, they may require a significant amount of customizing and optimizing to enable fast load times and a smooth payment experience.
Another must-have building block is the user interface, which ensures that your site is easy to navigate and visually appealing. Your user experience naturally relies on your customer understanding and UI design. Your user interface can be provided by your content management or eCommerce solution, or it can be custom-built using any UI technology, such as React. The latter option usually gives you more freedom in terms of designing your customer experience but also requires that your content management and eCommerce platforms support headless mode, in which your platforms work as backend solutions and provide an API for the custom-built user interface. Keep in mind that mobile applications are user interfaces in their own right and should always be regarded as a potential means of improving the experience.
In addition to the building blocks mentioned above, there are also other elements which are essential for optimizing, personalizing and contextualizing your experience. These include things such as customer data platforms. They are centralized storage systems for customer-related data, which may include purchase history, messaging with the customer service, behavior analytics on the use of digital services, ratings, and demographic data, for example. The customer data platform is typically integrated into a CRM, a customer service desk and other solutions in order to provide a 360-degree view of the customer. Another key feature of customer data platforms is their ability to use various sets of data to create customer segments, which can be used to personalize and contextualize your experience. Customer data platforms are also linked with possible loyalty systems, which make it possible to manage your customers’ benefits and rewards in accordance with your loyalty program.
The continuous improvement of the experience requires analytics, which provide information on your customers’ behavior in your digital assets and the way any changes affect your performance and experience. If connected with customer data platforms and A/B testing tools, analytics can provide exciting opportunities for continuous innovation and the development of a digital user experience through real-life testing.
To finalize your digital experience, you can throw in AI-enhanced chatbots with integrated marketing automation tools, which will enhance your personalization even further. You can also migrate your solution onto a scalable cloud platform and utilize edge computing services, which allow you to tend to your customers in the digital world and enable particularly fast load time. Once these have been integrated into a cohesive whole, things begin to get quite advanced.
One or more pieces of technology?
If you want to build a digital experience platform, you have two basic options to choose from. The easy option is to buy a readily integrated platform, such as Sitecore, Adobe Experience Platform or Salesforce, off the shelf. The second option is to build a platform from several pieces of technology. At Vincit, we tend to prefer the latter alternative. As the industry keeps evolving at a rapid pace, we see integrations as a more future-proof way of testing and implementing new technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality.
In the McKinsey report, virtual and augmented reality technologies were on the rise with over 10% of the respondents prepared to try them out. Currently, iOS and Android platforms already support the mixing of the digital and physical worlds. Augmented reality can be used to visualize items in their real environment, enabling a completely new experience for the purchase of household goods and similar. Virtual reality takes this approach one step further. As VR technologies improve and become more affordable, we may in the future be able to explore our next car or a new home without leaving our living room. The Finnish company Varjo has already created an environment in cooperation with Volvo, in which automotive engineers are able to achieve a fairly realistic experience of the car they’re working on as early as the design phase.
At Vincit, our favorite stack currently includes technologies such as Shopify, Contentful, Custobar and Google Analytics, built on a cloud environment. All the largest cloud environments like AWS, Azure, and Alibaba are providing more and more ready-to-use components to build an eCommerce and digital experience platform and to harness the capacity and tools of data analytics.
Case: Urban Armor Gear
Urban Armor Gear – for whom we built a completely new e-commerce website to increase usability, storytelling, brand expression, and performance – was already using Shopify as their eCommerce platform. The project presented interesting challenges, since companies typically build within Shopify using Liquid, Shopify’s templating language. In order to improve purchase speed and performance, we needed to use some cutting-edge technologies. To sidestep the usual limitations of Shopify, we built a custom site using React and Gatsby, connected it to Contentful CMS and the Shopify API. This had two major benefits: Gatsby, being a Static Site Generator, greatly speeds up page load times. Secondly, building the site using React opens up a huge pool of good quality technical resources that UAG can tap into if needed. Using Contentful for UAG’s lifestyle content also provides them with the ability to easily customize their content, spin up landing pages, and so on. We should also mention that this approach didn’t require migration of thousands of SKU’s and that it retained UAG’s current process for managing products. A handy deployment pipeline with Netlify sealed the deal.
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