Throughout the years, my wife and I have been fortunate to have been invited to a number of amazing weddings. Held on both coasts, two foreign countries and locations in between, each wedding reflected the unique personalities of those getting married and all were memorable in their own special way. This isn’t to say every wedding must be an elaborate affair – next time I get married I’ll opt for a more intimate celebration (just kidding, honey) – but having attended these events, it’s hard not to secretly compare future weddings to these past experiences. After all, we’re only human, right?

Defining digital experiences

In a different context, a similar phenomenon is happening online. Visitors, shoppers and users are having great experiences – possibly on your site or in your app – but if their expectations aren’t met, it can actually highlight perceived deficiencies. It may not be that your site offers a poor user experience, it’s just that they had a better experience on a different website. This is not industry-specific either. Visitors who have a great experience on a retail site now have higher expectations when banking or consuming content online.

This prognostication is not new, but I’ve been a skeptic – that is, until a number of recent scenarios left me questioning why companies hadn’t responded to my digital cues. To illustrate my point, here are a few recent digital interactions where my expectations were not met. To protect the innocent, the company names are not disclosed.

  • Every time I use the ATM at the pharmacy down the street – and I mean every stinking time! – I have to begin by selecting my language, indicating I don’t want to check my balance, and noting that I do not want a receipt. A machine I use every week – where I conduct the same withdrawal – has no idea who I am or my desired preferences from past transactions.
  • A news site I frequent can’t seem to remember that I gravitate to the same sections – business, tech and opinion columns. Instead, everyday, I have to navigate through several steps (yes, I know I could bookmark each section) to access the content I’m most interested in.
  • An online clothing retailer where I have an account and where I have made previous purchases can’t seem to remember my sex or my preferred shirt and pant size. When I visit, I have to re-enter this information (and navigate to the men’s section) – commonly finding that they’re out of stock in my size.

The bar’s been set

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about these scenarios as they were common. But today I have higher standards. There are ATMs that know I speak English and usually withdraw $100, content sites that customize my navigation based on what I read, and retailers that preemptively tell me when an item in my size is out of stock.

What I find particularly interesting is that these generic experiences have helped me further appreciate the companies that make an effort to cater to me as an individual. Using these examples alone, it’s easy to see why Gartner projects that companies that fully embrace online personalization by 2018 will outsell those who haven’t by 30%.


From here on out, one-size-fits-all visitor experiences will only stand out more. To be successful – actually, just to keep up – digital marketers need to compare what you’re doing to deliver the best possible customer experiences with what other companies – regardless of industry – are doing. Why? Because whether you want to admit it or not, your customers’ expectations are being influenced elsewhere.