Five Ways for Independent E-Retailers to Improve their Customer Experience

The rise of online shopping behemoths like Amazon strikes fear into the hearts of independent online fashion retailers. While there is legitimate reason for concern, there is also great opportunity for the personal and customized brand — the anti-Amazon approach if you will. Many shoppers are seeking to meaningfully connect with brands that they can identify with their values — this often means discovering independent brands that stand for something.

The one area of opportunity for these independent brand, in addition to defining and communicating their values, lies in the area of customer experience. As a recent research from Gartner demonstrates, customer experience is the most important arena of competition for online retailers, and one where independent retailers can possibly have the upper hand. Here are five ways we feel they can improve their customer experience, and with that also their bottom line.

Personal Shopping Assistance

As the internet continues to expand, we grow accustomed to accessing all the information we need, as soon as we need it. This is particularly true in the world of fashion retail, where shoppers are used to personal advice and knowledgeable store assistants to help them find the right item. According to a report by Forrester, 61% of customers value the ability to ask a customer support worker for product suggestions. By actively gathering customer preferences, independent retailers can inform the choice of products that they present to their online shoppers. Knowing each customer’s sizing, favorite colors and personal style helps independent retailers to stand as supportive shopping assistants who know what their customer likes and deliver on those preferences.

Sizing technology

One of the biggest obstacles to online fashion shopping, particularly for women, is the difficulty in getting the fit right. This is where independent retailers can use sizing technology to outshine larger chains. Companies such as Sizer provide cutting-edge solutions that significantly increase sizing accuracy and reduce the rate of returns. They do this by asking shoppers to measure themselves with the camera on their mobile device. The Sizer algorithm then generates a 3D model by which they recommend the best size for each garment.

Other retailers focus on showing how clothes fit on their models in as realistically a manner as possible. Everlane, for example, show their products from multiple camera angles as well as a video of the model wearing the product, so that customers can get a clearer idea of how the item looks ‘in real life’. Accompanying this with a sizing guide and information about a model’s height and size adds to the usefulness.

Other companies like ASOS use Virtusize to help customers compare the fit of the online product with clothes that they already own. Providing this kind of clear and accurate information about a product before the point of sale is key to creating positive and realistic expectations and reducing the rate of returns. This is significant for independent retailers who cannot afford to swallow the losses of returns with the same ease as larger chains.

Customer service

Customer service is an obvious key to positive customer experience, but too many online retailers overlook its importance. Live chat permits independent retailers to build a relationship with their customers before they even make a purchase. It can increase sales by helping customers easily overcome obstacles to purchase. One survey by reported that 63% of customers were more likely to return to a website that offers live chat. These real conversations are even more valuable because they give the retailer more rich information about their customers interests, concerns and motivations which enables the company to make an ever-more personal offering.

Maintaining a smooth and transparent returns service is another key to satisfied customers, although accurate product descriptions that provide a clear understanding of what is on offer is equally important. Finally, delivery is a key step in customer service which independent retailers cannot afford to ignore. Missed deliveries and poor delivery service are not quickly forgiven by customers. Equally, making delivery a smooth process through email and SMS notifications and bookable delivery slots encourages customers to return.


Good packaging isn’t just an added bonus for independent online retailers. It goes without saying that poorly packaged items that arrive damaged, messy or unattractive are a big disincentive to repeat business. But it goes further than that. The popularity of unboxing videos on YouTube shows how much customers enjoy receiving well-packaged items. Some online retailers such as Birchbox and the Dollar Shave Club have built a solid part of their reputation on their unboxing experience. Adding inserts that thank shoppers for their custom or invite them to send feedback are further building blocks in the consumer relationship.

Personalized Retention programs

Independent retailers have an opportunity to build a relationship with their customers that is far deeper than that created by large chains. With segmented emails, retailers can target customers based on their shopping style and follow up on purchases with personal emails that suggest new products that are directly relevant to each recipient. A survey by Invesp found that 56% of shoppers are more likely to return to a site that recommends suitable products.

By borrowing a leaf out of Amazon’s book, independent retailers can make personalized suggestions of future purchase items in the course of the shopper’s browsing journey. For example, ASOS upsell further items at checkout by recommending that customers ‘complete the look’. Clever use of cookies permits stores to immediately direct customers to the area of the store that most interests them. Using cookies to track customers’ locations also enables retailers to make suggestions based on local weather conditions, special events like major sporting or national celebrations and even in-store sales in the customer’s nearest bricks and mortar store.