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Loyalty & Retention

3 CX Lessons Learned Over 11 Years at Overstock

Emily Carrion  //  February 24, 2016  //  6 min read

I’m live at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, where Overstock.com President Stormy Simon (@Stormy_Simon) just took the stage to share her observations from a front row seat at the ecommerce revolution. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, and I escaped the chaos of the hallowed halls of MWC to learn what one of our earliest customers had to say on the subject of the customer.

The session, titled “Connecting the Dot: Customer Experience Innovation,” took the form of a fireside chat, moderated by Ivo Lukas (@MsSonicFlare), CEO of global creative agency 24Notion. As she entered the stage, Lukas introduced Simon as having joined the Utah-based online retailer as employee #100, five years after the company’s launch. In her 11 years at Overstock, she quickly climbed the ladder to fulfill a wide variety of marketing and management positions, including overseeing customer and partner care. Over this time, Overstock grew to over 16,000 employees and witnessed (and precipitated) a dramatic shift in the way its customers shop and behave.

Impressed, I joined the rest of the room in welcoming Simon to the stage and listened as she shared her first-hand account of the “evolution of the customer.” Over the next 30 minutes, I gained three valuable lessons in how retailers can scale their customer engagement—even as they grow from 100 to 16,000.

Stormy Simon on stage with moderator Ivo Lukas


1. Customer interaction needs to be proactive.

In the company’s early days, interacting with a customer meant one thing: Something had gone wrong. The customer had sought out customer service to communicate a problem—a website bug, a lack of product availability, or a late shipment.

It wasn’t ideal, of course. Overstock didn’t want to hear that customers were unhappy. All the same, the company listened. They fixed the problem, and they prioritized the customer.

And then something interesting happened. The resolved interaction transformed the unhappy customer into a happy customer. All of a sudden, those customers who were on the verge of walking out were among the company’s most loyal fans.

With that realization, Overstock began to invest heavily in the customer experience. They made themselves more available to their customers, wherever they were. And, they realized the need to always be relevant in the eyes of their customers and the channels they preferred, even amid an ecommerce boom that was dramatically reshaping their industry.

They mapped the customer experiencing, uncovering 100 different touch points along the customer’s journey—100 different points where they could differentiate their brand, connect with their customers, and earn customer loyalty.

Today, the company’s customer experience is completely driven by the customer.

2. Customers are already mobile-first (and eager for retailers to make the change).

Over her 11 years at Overstock, Simon observed the explosion of smartphone adoption. Calling our phones “a lens to life,” she noted the enormous role smartphones have established in our daily lives. We watch concerts through our phones, we shop through apps, and we are always multitasking. She went on to cite that 47% of millennials now have an ecommerce app installed on their mobile device.

So what did these observations mean for Overstock? The company had to find a way to be there, in a way the customer finds interesting and in a way that breaks through the chaos of a connected, multitasked life. The company brought its ecommerce app back to the drawing board and sought out a way to design an experience meaningful enough to keep customers using, engaging, and re-launching the app.

Their solution was to turn their app into a showroom. They continually sought to find creative ways to showcase their products on a mobile device, to allow the customer to browse freely, and to guide the customer to the perfect deal.

Of course, it was easier said than done. The mobile customer journey proved anything but linear. Customers were continually signing in and out of the app, abruptly ending their purchasing flow only to pick up another flow halfway along the journey. If mobile were to prove an integral part of their business model, Simon realized this would have to change. They would have to find a way to encourage customers to complete their purchases. They had to connect the dots, and they had to facilitate the customer’s movement through the purchase funnel.

To this end, the company realized that the app needed to be both useful and entertaining. People spend so much time on their mobile devices, Simon found, that they have come to expect to be entertained and engaged. Otherwise, another app is only a click away.

Overstock thus filled their app with fresh, rich content and entertaining features to keep the customer engaged. Some of these entertaining features, like Pet Adoptions, add no monetary value to the app. But, it is goodwill for the community and keeps people in the app—because who doesn’t want to browse cute animals all day?

When the Overstock app was featured in the “Editor’s Picks” sections on both Google Play and the App Store, Simon knew they had built something great.

3. Employee engagement precedes customer engagement.

And finally, Simon shared that in order to build a customer-centric brand, you have to find people who truly believe in, and live, your mission.

For Overstock, happy and engaged employees mean happy and engaged customers. The company ranked #1 in a Forbes employee satisfaction survey and has long prioritized building an engaged, enabled, and diverse workforce.

As part of its employee engagement program, Simon takes great pride in having one-third of its executive positions filled by women—an unfortunate rarity in the tech and retail industries. She cautions, however, that there is still work to do. She closed her session by asking herself (and the audience): Do we use the same words to describe women and men in our organization?


These three prioritizations into the customer experience speak to both Overstock’s incredible 17% revenue growth in its August earnings call (which Simon has previously attributed to the loyalty of Overstock’s customers) and the reasons I’m so proud to call them an Apptentive customer.

Stormy, thank you for sharing these incredible insights from your 11 years at Overstock with all of us at Mobile World Congress.

For more, follow Stormy Simon (@Stormy_Simon) and Overstock (@Overstock) on Twitter and join the conversation with the hashtags #MWC16 and #4YFN.

About Emily Carrion

Emily Carrion is the Head of Marketing at Apptentive. She's a startup veteran and digital marketing leader with a passion for data-driven storytelling, all things mobile, and building high-performing teams. Follow Emily on Twitter @Emily_Carrion.
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