To deliver a better digital experience, retailers should turn showing empathy to customers from an aspirational goal into an action plan.

 Kirsten Newbold-Knipp

Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, chief marketing officer at FullStory

“I am not a cat.” A year ago, who knew that these words would bring universal chortles of recognition?

In early February, a lawyer in an online court hearing accidentally used a kitten filter that displayed his face as a feline. The next awkward minutes became a viral video sensation. The clip was hailed as “an instant classic” by the New York Times and viewed more than 10 million times.

The video caught on because it perfectly captured the absurd glitches, frustrations, and helplessness we’ve all experienced on our digital journeys. These problems, which range from minor bugs to unanticipated design flaws, can arise at any turn to derail even the most thoughtfully planned digital experience. In response, retailers are increasingly encouraged to practice empathy, but the details of what empathy looks like in action—and how to be empathetic at scale—are often vague and ill-defined.

The digital experience disconnect

Digital experience glitches and problems quickly create a disconnect between your brand and your customers, making them more likely to bounce or avoid your site in the future and negatively impacting the bottom line. For example, a major national restaurant chain recently discovered that their “Add a tip button” was broken, angering customers who were trying unsuccessfully to give tips. The customers were left frustrated with the brand and experience because they couldn’t find a way to provide company employees much-needed extra money during a pandemic.


Even worse, digital experience problems aren’t always obvious or easy to catch and solve. Product, engineering, and merchandising teams can’t look over every customer’s shoulder to determine what goes wrong and why. Digital experience issues typically impact many customers before garnering attention—and then are passed to busy engineers to figure out what is going on, recreate the problem and then fix it—all while customers mired in rage clicks abandon their purchase and your brand.

These issues can have a profound bottom-line impact. A well-regarded luxury retailer discovered that holiday shoppers received a generic “Error” message at checkout when any of their items were out of stock. All the shopper needed to do was remove the unavailable item to proceed with the rest of their order, but this was not obvious and created a costly glitch at a critical time.

5 steps to delivering a more empathetic digital experience

Empathy—or walking in your customers’ shoes—has emerged as the antidote to digital frustration, friction, and stumbles. According to Harvard Business Review, research shows that empathic workplaces usually have stronger collaboration, less stress, and higher morale—resulting in improved relationships and product development. When taken alongside the fact that 7 out of 10 customers want companies to demonstrate empathy, these benefits can be transformative for customer relationships and sales.

With that in mind, here are five simple steps that can set brands on the path to empathy by understanding and addressing the digital pain points that shoppers have—and at a scale that positively impacts the business.

  1. Ensure that digital is a major priority at the top, not on the side: Recent research from FullStory found organizations that can deliver an ideal digital experience are more likely to have an executive owner responsible for digital experience success and shared and transparent organizational objectives for digital experience. The ability to create consensus at the top-level around digital experience priorities is another foundational factor for empathy—and success.
  2.  Create a single source of truth for customer-facing teams: Because customer-facing digital teams often use different technologies, different teams often operate from different data sets. But delivering empathetic experiences at scale requires a complete, consistent, and actionable source of truth—and a technology platform that can provide a complete view of the customer’s digital experience, customize customer insights based on the audience, and uncover user trends in aggregate.
  3. Understand the why behind the what: While traditional analytics excels at detailing what customers do during their digital experience, they cannot show why they take action. To make an empathetic change, retailers need to understand the full range of customer emotions and behaviors and how they translate into action through sophisticated digital experience analytics, heat maps, session reconstruction, and more.
  4. Ensure teams and individuals can quickly access the information they need to make the right decisions: Among digital experience leaders, 61% said teams could access the data they need directly, compared with 21% of less mature companies. Understanding which issues and friction points (like errors, custom events, performance issues, etc.) lead to lost revenue can expedite a brand’s prioritization and approval processes. To identify and resolve problems quickly—even proactively—retailers should democratize information that facilitates employee autonomy and fast decision-making.
  5. Prioritize collaboration: When it comes to digital experience, product, engineering, marketing, and merchandising teams can feel like they’re solving different problems—and it can seem almost impossible to get on the same page. Digital experience empathy requires that retailers arm their internal teams with tools and technologies that are easy to use but powerful enough to address sophisticated workflows.

Ultimately, as digital experience continues to grow in importance, empathy requires action and agility as much as understanding. More than three-quarters of digital experience leaders said they could make quick changes based on customer learnings, compared with 35% of less mature companies. By organizing for agility and adopting new technology to gain a holistic view of the customer experience, companies can surface and improve the interactions that matter to consumers, delivering empathy at scale to win sales and establish long-term loyalty.


FullStory is a digital analytics technology vendor that helps retailers understand and improve the digital experiences of shoppers.