How E-Commerce Retailers Are Putting the Customer First

E-commerce leaders explain how they are crafting online experiences that prioritize their customers

Written by Parissa DJangi
Published on Sep. 09, 2022
How E-Commerce Retailers Are Putting the Customer First

E-commerce has come a long way since its earliest days in the 1990s. Now, consumers can buy virtually anything online, from the newest mobile devices to centuries-old antiques. 

Yet, even as e-commerce has become the new normal, retailers are left with the challenge of building smooth online experiences for their customers, who have an infinite number of retail options at their fingertips. Indeed, as technology changes, and customers’ expectations change with it, the stakes have never been higher: Clunky infrastructure can easily frustrate consumers and convince them to give competing retailers a try. Moreover, customers expect to have access to more shopping tools that allow them to customize their experiences. How can retailers meet and exceed customers’ expectations by offering headache-free online experiences? 

To discover what successful e-commerce experiences look like, we checked in with tech and product leaders from companies that have perfected the art of engaging their customers. Sephora is a brick-and-mortar powerhouse that successfully pivoted to e-commerce, while The Black Tux and Smartrr are internet-first companies with e-commerce built into their DNA. They all model what it means to craft e-commerce experiences around their customers. 

Sephora employees wear matching black shirts at an outdoors event

About the company: Sephora has been catering to American consumers since 1998 and was quick to join the e-commerce revolution. The company has kept step with the times and developed a new platform to meet customers’ needs.

Sree Sreedhararaj, Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, shared how Sephora leverages technology to personalize the shopping experience for its customers:

How did you design an online experience with your customer in mind? 

“Our technology approach has always been to provide best-in-class, seamless experience to our consumers anywhere, anytime and meet them where they are. This is reflected in our unique integrated experiences on social channels such as Instagram as well as through cutting-edge technology to drive augmented experiences for our consumers in-stores. In September 2021, we launched our Mobile Color iQ technology, after months of developing a new artificial intelligence-based algorithm. Armed with this new technology, we're able to drive inclusive and accessible BIPOC skin tones which have been underserved by skin tone-matching technology. Ultimately, this new technology represents our ongoing efforts to champion all beauty and create a more inclusive environment for all.” 

What was the biggest challenge in designing a smooth customer experience?

“Challenges are always drivers of innovation. Continuous improvements to the digital and store experiences through customer feedback is the only way to drive the best-in-class experiences. Whether we are talking about internal business customers, or external clients to whom we sell our services and products, we at Sephora Technology have always approached them through a KYC (know your customer) model. Once you know your end users and their expectations you can always meet them through technology innovation.” 

How has your company personalized the online experience for customers?

“Sephora has been named #1 in personalization index for multiple years now, and it’s a key driver for our digital/online experiences. Over the last few years, the Sephora technology team has created personalization aspects in our store experiences such as helping our customer find their preferred store, or finding your matching products through Color iQ. For us, personalization is providing individualized information to our customer at the right time (timeliness), in the right place (location – online/in store/social) and through the right way (channel – message, email, social, media, etc). Technology plays a huge role in driving each of these variables of personalization, helping simplify and reduce friction for customers when they want to make a decision.” 

In which cities are you currently hiring for tech roles in the U.S.? 

“We are growing! As a technology-driven company, we’re looking to add many positions including hybrid roles in San Francisco, remote roles across the country and some opportunities at our Distribution Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Sephora technology team believes in measurable outcomes for the business; hence many positions are eligible to be fully remote, although we encourage teams to collaborate in person when possible to build relationships and drive innovation.”

Employees from The Black Tux stand together on a boat that is on the water
The Black Tux

 About the company: The Black Tux, a formal-wear rental company based in Santa Monica, California, uses technology to connect customers with the perfect tuxedo.

Heather Riazi, Director of Product Management, spoke about how The Black Tux innovated to create tools that make online shopping easier and more convenient for customers:

How did you design an online experience with your customer in mind? 

“The first step in designing a customer-centric experience is understanding your customer's needs. Before diving into providing self-service tools for customers, The Black Tux defined and tested what actions customers would take themselves. This way, we avoided a ‘build it, and they will come’ strategy. We started where the data showed customer interest in performing the actions on their own, and then aligned our feature roadmap with that, solving their pain points and aligning expectations.”

What was the biggest challenge in designing a smooth customer experience? 

“The biggest challenge in designing a smooth experience is focusing on a specific customer segment. When you try to design for everyone, you lose clarity of who the feature will support, and your use case gets bloated. Keeping the bloat down is much harder than it seems: naturally, you want to say yes and support more use cases to support more customers. But solving for everyone can lead you to solve for no one effectively.” 

How has your company personalized the online experience for customers? 

“We created a personalized experience with our party management tools. Anyone who has ever had to organize a group knows how stressful it can be. With The Black Tux tools, we make it a seamless experience assigning a look, inviting party members and keeping tabs on them checking out. All to help ensure that everyone looks as you expect on your big day.” 

In which cities are you currently hiring for tech roles in the U.S.?

“We are hiring for several remote roles, including Senior Software Engineer, Senior Data Analyst, and a Chief Technology Officer. We also have an opening for an IT Support Specialist based in Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

Three Smartrr employees sit on a couch

About the company: E-commerce service and New York-based startup Smartrr offers a subscription management tool that helps DTC brands connect with customers. 

Molly Duffy, Director of Product, explained how Smartrr designed its product with customers in mind:

How did you design an online experience with customers in mind?

“When building for the customer, it is critical to understand the problems you are trying to solve instead of starting with a focus on potential solutions. People do not buy a hammer; they buy a tool to get a nail into a wall. This same principle can be applied when developing a product strategy, starting with how you solicit feedback. Rather than asking customers what they want us to build, we ask what they aim to accomplish. Focusing on that angle during customer conversations will better inform your team, build consumer empathy and, ultimately, result in a superior final product.”

 What was the biggest challenge in designing a smooth customer experience?

“When focusing on the user experience, one significant challenge is the tendency to build for your personal experience and use cases. The best way to avoid this pitfall is by hiring a diverse team with fresh perspectives. If your team can represent a holistic point of view throughout the product development process, you will naturally create a product that will appeal to a wider customer base.” 

 How has your company personalized the online experience for customers?

“At Smartrr, we are laser-focused on building a best-in-class customer experience. In our current product development process, we implement beta periods around our major launches where we limit our initial releases to a small group of clients that provide regular feedback during a set period to help shape the product before a wider launch. Feedback on designs is always helpful earlier in the process, but fundamental insights come from hands-on experience with a product once it is in production.” 

 In which cities are you currently hiring for tech roles in the U.S.? 

“We are hiring in our headquarters in New York as well as remote!” 


Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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