Looking across the clients we have worked with and the needs of their target customers, nearly always there is an even split between functional and emotional needs that correlate most highly with loyalty and advocacy. And often amongst these emotional needs are some quite fundamental ones about feeling cared for, being loved and feeling like they belong – feelings that can take time to develop with a customer but which lead to loyal fans of your brand. So, can Internet retailers deliver planned experiences via technology that develop these emotions?

We can think of some examples where brands are getting close to this but on the whole there seems to be a trend of Internet retailers adopting technology to deliver on the functional and short-term emotional needs of customers.

With the mission to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’, Amazon’s strategy is very much in the customer intimacy space. Yet looking at their current focus it is very much in the realm of meeting functional customer needs:

“We strive to

[…] improve our operating efficiencies so that we can continue to lower prices for our customers. We also provide easy-to-use functionality, fast and reliable fulfillment, and timely customer service.”  (Amazon, 2012 Annual Report)

Compare that to ASOS, the online fashion retailer. They appear to be looking to connect to their target segment’s lives in a way that goes beyond their core retail proposition. In their strategy they refer directly to this:

“The ASOS experience is already collaborative, entertaining and personalised. Fashion-lovers come to us for inspiration and conversation, and to create their own fashion collections – not just for shopping.

We want them to come to us for all their fashion needs.” (ASOS)

Whilst the intention and the outcome for customers is a richer, emotional experience with the brand or with like-minded people, the technology focus remains functional:

“So we are working to deliver a seamless experience on our website, across social networks and devices from phones and iPads to laptops. It will be increasingly personalised, available in all places, and at all times. We are investing in mobile and digital innovation and services to make us faster and ever more desirable as a destination for twenty-somethings.”  (ASOS)

With Burberry, however, the execution of technology goes that little bit further and it’s no surprise Burberry’s strategy has a strong technology and product innovation focus. Yes, they have really achieved great things with the blurring of the physical and the digital in their flagship store, but what stands out is the delivery of theatre – not the simultaneous broadcast of fashion events across the world, but the multi-sensory experiences online and in their stores – and the application of technology to bring the customer’s corporal world into the brand experience. Here’s some examples:

In the Art of the Trench launch in Chicago, Burberry and its customers went out and photographed themselves in their favourite parts of Chicago and used this collateral in both physical and digital channels;

The rainstorm effect – at fixed points in the day the store is transformed into a visceral experience:

“We have this kind of rainstorm we’ve done with people clicking their fingers, and all of a sudden we’ll dim the lights throughout the whole space and every video screen will suddenly turn to this video we’ve created. Everybody just stops and stares at the screen; we turn the sound up a bit, it becomes entertainment, makes people smile and stop, and then they go back to what they were doing.” (Christopher Bailey)

Weather images around the world – during the Olympics, live images of parts of London were beamed to outdoor hotspots in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and New York, ‘to emphasise the brand’s association with weather’

Burberry is a great example of a brand beginning to hit the mark when using technology to make deeper emotional connections with its customers. Looking under the bonnet of Burberry you will also see the commitment to operational excellence that it shares with Amazon and ASOS. What stands out with Burberry is the role the physical world plays in making those deeper emotional connections, which begs the question whether online by itself could achieve this. Consumers still place high regard for face-to-face and telephone interactions, and the role of these touch points should be considered of greater importance as much of the discovery and transactional aspects of purchasing now occurs online.

Despite this, the major investments being made by enterprises are into mobile, social media and ecommerce websites, and not in the enhancement of the physical channel (DMI 2013: Creating true customer-centered services, Transform UK). As is often the case, a customer-centered approach is the best way forward to making the right investment choices. To drive up loyalty and advocacy with your technology spend, start by identifying which functional and emotional needs your customers have, which ones are correlated to repurchasing and recommendation, and then invest in the technology to bring about the experiences that drive this behaviour.