I have worked for retailers on in-store and eCommerce projects for 30 years. In these articles I will layout the challenges for retailers in Bricks & Mortar stores moving onto eCommerce platforms.

First define what it is you currently do.

To summarise the in-store customer experience, I use this analogy.

I know that if I were to you as a retailer to show me around your store, then something like this would happen. We go into Aisle 1 and find some rubbish on the floor, as a retailer you will pick this up. In Aisle 2 we find a customer with a full basket but whom is still shopping. Here you call a member of staff to take the basket to the checkout for the customer and give them an empty basket so that they can continue shopping.

In Aisle 3 we find some shelves that are both messy and missing stock. As a retailer you immediately call a staff member to stock and organise these products. At the checkouts we find a queue so you as a retailer organises staff to come and clear the queue of customers.

The reason retailers take all of these actions can be summed up as great customer experience. As a retailer you understand that customers hate mess, customers will not ask for products missing from shelves, even if they are in the stockroom, customers will only wait for so long at checkouts and your best customers buying lots of stuff from you, should be the easiest thing in the world because if it’s not then there is no reason to even open the doors in the morning.

Understanding, creating and reacting to customers needs to give them a great experience is a real skill.

Next understand you need to translate this into the online eCommerce world

Going back to our analogy, if I asked you as  a retailer why you wouldn’t put the guy who is fixing the tills in charge of customer experience, they would look at me strangely and point out that they don’t have the right skill set. And of course you would be right.

However when moving into the digital world this is something that happens far too often. Those customer experience skills are absolutely still required, however from a retailer point of view, we have this big scary thing call technology in the way. In these cases it can seem easier to let the IT guys make lots of decisions on issues affecting customer experience which will always the wrong idea.

The Logic v Customer Experience challenge

Let me illustrate this by having a discussion of “Logic” v “Customer Experience”. Most websites and apps are built from many so-called widgets which are little blocks of functionality. One that is often used is the drop-down list of countries in the customer address field. A “logical” view on this is to list every country in the world, so that way when we ever sell to a new country we don't have to change anything on the website or app.

You can’t argue with the logic, but from a Customer Experience standpoint, if you only have customers in the UK or Ireland then making them scroll past Afghanistan and 140 other countries is very annoying and will lose sales. This is where a retailer's customer experience skills really comes into their own and they need to constantly keep the customers experience at the center of any development of digital sales channels and IT people, while they understand the technology are not the right people to represent the customer view.

Creating customer experience as requirements.

So part of the challenge for retailers of how we translate these customer experience requirements into specifications that we can give to our IT team is how we communicate them.

One method that that I would recommend is the Gherkin method that comes out of the Business Driven Development model. I will include some links that detail these at the end and I wont’ go into too many details now, but here are some simple examples.

Suffice to say that Gherkin specifies a function using basically these words: Given, When, Then, And, If and Or.

For example Scenario: User adds item to cart
 GIVEN I'm a logged-in User
 WHEN I go to the Item page
 AND I click "Add item to cart"
 THEN the quantity of items in my cart should go up
 AND my subtotal should increment
 AND the warehouse inventory should decrement


GIVEN a user has added an [item] to their shopping cart
AND the [item price] is greater than $20
WHEN the user navigates to the “Checkout” page
AND clicks on the “Purchase’ button
THEN the following message will be displayed: “Your purchase is greater than $20.  You are entitled to a 10% discount!”
AND a discount rate of 10% will be applied to the [item price]

The key is to keep it simple and to use only business, not technical language. When a number of functions have been added then a retailer should look at each line and ask these questions.

For example on the line

AND a discount rate of 10% will be applied to the [item price]

The first question is Who does this, is this automatic via a system or is someone have to do something to make this happen? If a person is involved then we need to identify who they are and do they have the time, tools and skills to do it?

The second question is how this will happen, what systems or processes are called to do this? If it is an automated process then we should still ask about how it is monitored, that is, how do we know that this process is working for customers and who gets notified if its not. If the answer is that there is no monitoring and we don;t know if it is affecting customers, then this should lead to some new requirements to ensure that it is monitored.


So in summary, translating great customer experience into online sales channels is something that is absolutely required, it requires retailers skills and should not be left up to IT. Knowing how to specify great customer experience may well require retailers to learn new techniques such as Gherkin. The key is for retailers to specify these using business language and let the IT team deliver the technology.