Digital-First Retailers Miles Ahead In Customer-Centricity
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Digital-First Retailers Miles Ahead in Customer-Centricity

Digital-first retailers are emerging from Covid in a greater position of strength compared to incumbent retailers (those who started in stores, catalogs or wholesale before adding ecommerce) — even as people begin to resume their pre-pandemic ways of life. According to a recent survey of more than 100 retailers by CommerceNext and sponsored by Yotpo, the number one challenge for incumbent retailers was making their data actionable, despite the digital transformation gains made by nearly every retailer in the past year. The robust survey of marketing leaders found that digital-first retailers have already figured this out and are much more focused on driving customer retention, acquisition and delivering superior site experience.

“Not all ecommerce marketing is equal,” said Scott Silverman, Co-Founder of CommerceNext. “This report illuminates the divergent strategies that have evolved post-pandemic between digitally native retailers and incumbents. While both are focused on customer retention, the digital natives let consumer behaviors and preferences dictate their strategy while incumbents struggle to make data actionable because of legacy marketing systems. As we continue to become a more ecommerce-driven world, these differences will have a profound impact on retailers’ bottom lines.”

The full results are now available in a new benchmark report, “The Year of Covid the Customer: Retention and Privacy Usher In A New Wave of Customer-Centric Strategies.” CommerceNext continually conducts research and fosters a community of sharing amongst marketing leaders so that all can serve customers better, both in times of crisis and out. The current survey was fielded in June, 2021 with more than 100 high-level marketers. The results of this report will be discussed at the upcoming CommerceNext IRL conference on September 28 – 29, 2021.

All Retailers Concentrate On Retention, But Split On Privacy And Data

Even though marketing budgets stayed the same as 2020, and even though performance satisfaction went up in almost every marketing category, there’s a decisive split between digital-first retailers and incumbent retailers on 2021 strategies and tactics — the former is looking to the future of first-party data and the latter to omnichannel. However, 69% of all retailers are focusing on retention, overcoming our industry’s historical attention on acquisition.

Insights from this report highlight significant distinction between digital-first and incumbent retailer priorities:

  • Given the residual effects of new privacy laws on ad costs, 43% of digital-first marketers say acquisition performance came in below expectations. Most are now more focused on retention.
  • While 86% of all retailers are satisfied with their privacy compliance efforts (GDPR, etc.), more digital-first are committed to solving the major Big Tech privacy changes by diversifying tactics beyond Facebook and Google.
  • Digital-first retailers are more committed to a customer value exchange in the new privacy landscape, using incentives, promotions or contests much more to encourage opt-in from customers (83% vs 53%).
  • Incumbent retailers are still investing in customer data platforms, testing new channels and relying on omnichannel approaches like email and loyalty programs to accumulate first-party data.

“As regulations around consumer privacy continue to tighten, acquisition without retention becomes a losing cycle of churn and decreasing profits,” explained Rosa Hu, Vice President Product Marketing at Yotpo. “In this data, we’re excited to see more retailers getting creative with loyalty, segmentation, SMS, UGC and other tactics that will deepen organic brand to customer relationships, ultimately creating much better value for the customer and long-term retention.”


In June 2021, CommerceNext conducted a robust survey with 104 high-level marketer participants that spanned retail and brand types and verticals. In Part I of this report, they compare several of the baseline budget and performance questions also used in their 2020 survey to benchmark retailers’ priorities.

About CommerceNext

CommerceNext is a community, event series and conference for marketers at retail and direct to consumer brands. Now in its fourth year, CommerceNext has grown to include webinars, virtual summits, industry research and an online community, in addition to the annual CommerceNext summit and the esteemed CommerceNexty Awards. Inc. magazine named the CommerceNext Summit one of the Top 5 ecommerce conferences for 2019/2020. To learn more about CommerceNext visit

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