How Customers Are Shaping the B2C and DTC Buying Journeys

Partner Content

Seated squarely behind the wheel, consumers are driving retailers to one destination: personalization.

The business-to-consumer (B2C) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) sectors naturally revolve around the customer, but the gravitational pull has only intensified. That’s because 58% of consumers say they like it when brands seemingly know their interests and preferences, according to the 2023 Acquia Customer Experience Trends Report, indicating strong interest in personalization. And at the same time, 79% of consumers expect brands to have a consistent message and appearance across all digital platforms.

Despite these consumer expectations, 37% of multibrand retailers and manufacturers across the U.S. and Canada who were surveyed for the Acquia-sponsored 2024 Future Customer Journeys report from eTail and WBR Insights say designing a personalized digital buying journey for customers is a major challenge. Another 36% lamented their inability to serve consistent customer experiences (CX) across digital channels, leaving the promise of omnichannel marketing unfulfilled.

Those are troubling percentages. When retailers and e-commerce companies don’t meet consumers’ expectations and personalization preferences, they weaken their chance at building or deepening relationships with audiences. That’s an especially risky outcome when you consider how much more valuable repeat customers are to a business’s bottom line versus new buyers: they spend 67% more and account for 50% or more of total sales.

What, then, can brands do to ensure a consistent and personalized customer journey? We take a closer look at the findings and recommendations of the Future Customer Journeys report and highlight the steps brands can take to fulfill shoppers’ needs.

Customer data is king

Personalization is impossible without customer data. Fortunately, organizations have no shortage of it — in fact, the volume and sources of customer data abound, creating data chaos for brands without centralized storage. Data silos proliferate, compounding the problem, with teams basing decisions on inaccurate or old information.

The quality of your customer data, then, is paramount. If it’s “dirty” — duplicative, corrupt, outdated, or mislabeled — customer journeys are negatively affected. Unused mailing addresses are added to pricey direct mail campaigns, old email addresses receive coupons that are never seen, a cat lover sees display ads for dog food . . . you get the picture.

It’s marketing at its most inefficient. Teams waste time and budget, customers feel ignored or misunderstood, branding suffers, and business decisions are made on bad data.

The problem is worse than just poor data; even if organizations have good data, they still struggle with handling the stuff. According to the Future Customer Journeys report, 61% of respondents were only somewhat satisfied with their ability to use data to understand customer journeys and to engage customers meaningfully. In fact, the same percentage struggles to understand customer needs and preferences overall, which may be why 46% find adapting to changing consumer behaviors so challenging.

To overcome these issues, the report’s authors recommend prioritizing advanced data analysis (including with AI assistance) to improve data utilization. When that’s in order, the many technological tools (more on that below) that support marketers’ efforts to personalize and enhance the customer experience can function at their best.

Technology solutions that improve the customer experience

Brands can alleviate the pain points identified above by adopting technologies designed to support both marketer and customer. Below are a few that leading brands have incorporated into their marketing technology (martech) stack.

Customer data platform

With the Future Customer Journeys report finding 66% of respondents agreeing that customer data management is “very important,” the most obvious tech solution we should start with is a customer data platform (CDP). The technology offers a central hub for — you guessed it — customer data, but its power goes beyond simple storage. Through identity resolution capabilities, CDPs will cleanse so-called dirty data and create up-to-date customer profiles that allow teams across an organization to work from a business foundation built on accurate and unified customer information.

A CDP that incorporates machine learning (ML, a subset of artificial intelligence) further enhances a brand’s personalization initiatives, offering respite to the 62% of survey respondents who cited understanding customer needs and preferences as one of their top two priorities. An ML-powered CDP can, for example, support advanced segmentation with customer clusters that divide buyers according to their affinity for a specific product, brand, or category. Or it can use “next best” ML models that detect when a customer is no longer engaging with a brand’s emails and suggest the next best channel for reaching that individual.

What quickly becomes evident are the actionable advantages that CDPs offer B2C and DTC marketers. Data isn’t just unified and cleansed; ML capabilities produce insights and recommendations that teams can act on in real time, edging out competitors working with more manual or slower technologies and processes.

How a CDP turbocharged J.Crew’s marketing

Before it acquired a CDP, J.Crew would have to wait days or weeks for its marketing service provider (MSP) to generate ad hoc audience lists for targeted email and social marketing. Transactional and engagement data arrived just once a month, and tracking a cohort’s transactional behavior was a manual process heavily dependent on the availability of not just the customer insights team but the data itself.

That all changed once the retail giant added a CDP to its martech stack. Customer data was refreshed daily, audience lists could be developed within minutes and pushed to email and social platforms, and users could have their queries about transactional behavior answered within 20 minutes, among a host of additional benefits.

In one remarkable campaign, J.Crew sent a personalized email to customers who had bought or browsed “cashmere” in the last year versus its business-as-usual (BAU) cohort. The cashmere audience comprised 10% of the total group yet drove nearly 50% of total demand.


Digital asset management platform

Retail and e-commerce leaders also cited content personalization as the solution most important to the customer journey, according to the Future Customer Journeys report. Couple a customer data platform with the content analytics found within digital asset management (DAM) platforms, and marketers will have immense insight into which assets audiences find most engaging. This way, they can adjust their content investments and campaign efforts accordingly. 

Plus, ensuring consistent messaging and branding across digital channels — a key component in productive customer journeys, as consumers have reiterated — is easier to achieve with a DAM platform. By housing all of a brand’s digital assets (its videos, PDFs, logos, graphics, and so on) in one place, a DAM system allows organizations to deliver brand experiences that sport a consistent look and feel. Adhering to the create once, publish everywhere (COPE) principle, a DAM platform allows users to confidently deploy the most up-to-date version of an asset, thus avoiding the confusion that old logos or outdated messaging can sow. Plus, when a DAM system has AI capabilities, it can suggest design and copy ideas that get your content just right for both customers and SEO crawlers.

Digital experience platform

digital experience platform (DXP) can combine the capabilities of multiple technology solutions (and thus eliminate tech silos) to facilitate the delivery of superior customer experiences. A DXP that connects CMS, CDP, and DAM solutions can offer businesses one hub for creating, managing, delivering, and optimizing personalized customer journeys.

A resounding 88% of those surveyed for the Future Customer Journeys report take advantage of the technology already, indicating its prominence in the retail and e-commerce sectors. Among those satisfied with their DXP, 59% thought the ML-backed, cross-channel insights it offers led to smarter personalization. A notable percentage of respondents (43%) also viewed a DXP’s integrated approach to content and data as a top benefit, while another 41% with DXPs featuring an open architecture for easy integration saw that framework as an advantage.

Businesses operating without a DXP should take these findings to heart. From improved personalization to frictionless integrations that ensure content and data complement one another, a DXP offers clear gains for B2C and DTC companies, which is why the authors of the Future Customer Journeys report recommend adopting the technology.

Next steps

The central role that personalization plays in productive customer journeys is undeniable. To ensure their personalization efforts are successful, brands need to prioritize the quality of their customer data and invest in technologies that provide real-time data analytics and, more importantly, actionable insights. To find out more about its results and recommendations, download the free Future Customer Journeys report today!