A new report from Econsultancy and Decibel shows increasing numbers of businesses have recognized the close correlation between the quality of their customers’ digital experience and business outcomes. They are consequently investing in new optimization-related tools and techniques that have led to the development of more sophisticated metrics, and the evolution of digital experience ‘ownership’ within their organizations.

The State of Digital Experience and Conversion in 2021 report is based on a survey of more than 300 business executives, predominately from the UK and the US, carried out in February 2021. The majority of respondents work inhouse for brands as marketing, ecommerce or user experience professionals, across a range of business sectors. The report contains year-on-year comparisons with a similar survey carried out in December 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The role of digital experience optimization in driving top-line growth

With the Covid-19 pandemic likely driving a permanent shift in customer behavior towards online channels, the importance of digital experience optimization has become paramount.

As online channels and interactions have taken center stage, there is increased recognition of the role digital experience optimization plays in driving top-line growth, with serious flaws or even minor glitches in website and app design having a significant commercial impact.

This Econsultancy/Decibel survey shows almost half (49%) of business executives surveyed believe their customers’ overall digital experience is ‘critical’ to the success of their organization (Figure 1).

As such, organizations have redoubled their efforts to improve the digital customer experience within the context of their more strategic alignment with evolving customer requirements.

Figure 1: The importance of digital experience to the success of the organization

chart showing importance of digital experiences and conversion to the success of business

Download: The State of Digital Experience and Conversion in 2021.

There is also an increased focus on how digital experience optimization can improve conversion, reflecting the growing importance of digital engagement and transactions since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If company leadership teams are seeking to ignite growth through an obsessive focus on customer-centricity, then a logical part of this transformation is to ensure that digital interactions are as seamless as possible.

The research shows that the proportion of companies that regard the maximizing of conversion on websites to be ‘critical’ has jumped from 33% in 2019 to 43% in 2021, while for app conversion the figure has risen from 37% to 47%.

Long-term strategy has suffered

Businesses need to ensure they have an appropriate, long-term strategy to proactively address problems and enable continuous improvement. This more deliberate and intelligent approach is necessary because the bar is constantly being raised in digital commerce as shoppers constantly re-evaluate websites and apps against the best experiences they have encountered.

However, Figure 2 indicates that many organizations remain in fire-fighting mode when it comes to digital experience optimization, and are yet to develop a ‘strategic’ approach – where monitoring and adaptation is based on a ‘deep understanding of user journeys’.

Only 35% of companies now say they take a ‘strategic’ approach, one that uses ‘digital experience optimization based on a deep understanding of customer journeys’ (down from 41% two years ago).

This is perfectly understandable given the unpredictable nature of recent circumstances and the need to focus on the short-term while keeping a tight rein on budgets. Around half of companies surveyed – about the same proportion as 2019 – remain limited to either a ‘reactive approach to resolving problems’ (19%) or ‘short-term, tactical optimization’ (30%).

Figure 2: How businesses would describe their approach to website and app optimization

chart showing how organizations would describe their approach to optimizing websites and apps

A more positive finding is the wider adoption of highly advanced, technology-based digital experience optimization practices. The proportion of respondents describing their approach as ‘fully automated with machine learning’ (ML) has increased from 11% to 16%. While still fairly niche, the automation offered by ML offers an opportunity to ramp up use of CX data and deliver smoother and more personalized experiences to users at scale, driving up conversion further. Automation provides brands with a way to manage this increased complexity and velocity of interactions, by enabling them to leverage increased volumes of data to deliver more intuitive and empathetic messaging and ‘next best actions’ to aid conversion.

Other key findings of the Decibel/Econsultancy research include:

  • Development of more advanced digital experience optimization techniques is growing. Businesses report growing penetration of tools such as heatmaps and session recording tools (62%, up from 43%) and web analytics dashboards (78%, up from 69%).
  • Businesses are looking beyond standard commercial and financial metrics to better understand their customers’ emotional responses to the design of sites and apps, and use those insights to advance the organization’s agenda. More than four in 10 respondents (44%) have now developed in-house custom digital experience scores. The proportion of businesses monitoring customer effort scores has more than doubled, to 31% since the last survey.

Download the full Econsultancy/Decibel research, The State of Digital Experience and Conversion in 2021.