A great online experience starts with helping shoppers quickly find what they need. If retailers can't provide that, shoppers will start their searches somewhere else.

Brian McGlynn

Brian McGlynn, general manager of ecommerce, Coveo

Consumer expectations for retail experiences will never stop increasing. Jeff Bezos calls it “divine discontent” and Coveo CEO Louis Tetu calls it Moore’s Law of Digital Experience Expectations. Whatever you call it, we all know that shoppers get accustomed to their best experience and keep raising the bar from there.

Digital-native giants like Google, Amazon, Netflix, Wayfair and Spotify have set that bar high. They leverage search, data, and AI to offer customers personalized and relevant experiences—at a massive scale.

But embracing digital isn’t the only secret to success. Retail ecommerce sales grew 28% worldwide in 2020, yet many retailers went out of business last year. Why? Not because they failed to adopt digital, but because they didn’t fully grasp how radically consumer expectations have evolved.


My company, Coveo, recently surveyed about 2,000 consumers to get a deeper understanding of preferences and expectations for commerce in the post-pandemic world. We found that 90% of consumers expect online shopping to be equal to or better than the in-store experience, but 50% of customers say they sometimes or always experience a problem when shopping online.

Bottom line: retailers are failing to meet sky-high consumer expectations.

It’s not a commerce problem. It’s a relevance problem.

The areas where retailers are failing are less complex than you might imagine. Shoppers want to find what they’re looking for—fast.

  • 47% of those surveyed have challenges with website search.
  • 42% say that finding information is the most common problem they experience online.
  • 43% have issues with website navigation.

These common shopper problems are aligned with the challenges I hear about from retailers every day: shopping cart abandonment, low marketing conversion rate and low-repeat business/low-average purchase.

The missing link? Relevance. Helping customers find what they need starts with relevance. If retailers can’t provide that, shoppers will start their searches somewhere else.

What poor online experience really means

Not closing the experience gap can lead to severe consequences for retailers. 73% of customers said they would abandon a brand after three or fewer negative customer experiences. Tolerance for unsatisfactory online experiences is even lower for the shoppers of the future, those in Gen Z.

Compared to the silent generation (those born before 1945), twice as many Gen Z consumers said they’ll abandon a brand if they can’t find the information they’re looking for without help.


A retailer’s customer experience could be even worse than they know: 44% of consumers will rarely or never complain to a company about a negative customer service experience. They’ll simply ghost.

Bridging the relevance gap

Here’s the good news: closing the relevance gap is possible for retailers of every size thanks to advanced technology. Offering personalized experiences at scale, which was previously only accessible to digital natives, is now accessible to all. No hordes of data scientists are required.

Retailers sit on a treasure trove of data. They know search and click history, past purchases and returns, and a whole array of demographics. Retailers have all the information they need to deliver exceptional commerce experiences. Applying intelligent technology to that data puts it into action, driving revenue, conversions, engagement, cart size, self-service satisfaction, and more.

Relevance, convenience, and simplicity are now not only expected of ecommerce experiences but demanded. In the post-pandemic world, the ability to provide relevant customer experience at every single touchpoint, every single time, could mean the difference between retailers that survive and retailers that cease to exist.


Coveo provides online personalization software embedded with artificial intelligence.