C-Suite Advisory

Forget Customers; To Win at E-Commerce, You Need Seekers

Raj De Datta, CEO of Bloomreach

To win at e-commerce, business must stop the search for customers – that’s the wrong target. You don’t want customers. What you want are seekers.

We can define “seeker” as a higher order outcome  – one that is deconstructed into a series of products or services. I then become a customer or prospect looking for those products and services. So, first, I am a seeker of a memorable family vacation. Then, I become a customer for airline tickets.

That’s the way people think, but it’s not the way e-commerce is currently organized. The problem we face is that the Internet sees people as customers, not as seekers. As far as business is concerned, its job is to deliver a product or serve. Period. Worrying about higher intentions is irrelevant. When I log on to plan my family vacation, businesses don’t know what I seek and even when they do, they don’t deliver it to me because they don’t see that as their mission. American Airlines might know I’m going to Kenya, the hotel might know the days I’m staying in Nairobi and Trip Advisor might know that I looked at a bunch of safari options – but does any of them know that I’m seeking a memorable family vacation? No. None of those businesses is built to care about that.

This construct results in hours spent clicking around, trying to find what we seek. It’s a recipe for frustration and plenty of us will give up and just buy whatever turns up at the top of our search results. That’s a problem for business. No system steeped in frustration can be a winning strategy.

The truth is, digital experiences, delivered by businesses worldwide are failing consumers.  They do not give users what they seek.  Instead, they insist users break up what they seek into a digital “to do” list and force them to try to optimally select each item on the list.  But there is a better way. Not a new technology, but a new kind of business – one that puts the seeker in the center.

What I’m suggesting is a rethinking of business that focuses not on selling a product or service, but at providing users with the best possible experience in whatever it is you’ve come to the Internet to seek.

How can business make that happen?

  • Ask Why:  Business must ask a fundamental question – why does a customer want my product?  To create a winning digital experience, we want to shift that thinking away from a product or service and instead, create an offering that is an experience encompassing the product or service. To get to that experience offering, we have to move up the traditional sales funnel. We don’t want to ask the customer what they want. We want to ask them why they’ve come to us.  It’s the “why” question that will tell us how to create the best offering. Understanding underlying motivations often results in then realizing that a visitor to your e-commerce site has a job to do or a task to complete.
  • Provide a Whole Solution: Many jobs or tasks can’t be achieved with a single product or service.  Indeed, the product / service is not just a means to an end but rather one of the many means to the end the individual is seeking.  Understanding these motivations can help you craft a “whole solution” to that goal.  Inevitably – this means stitching together multiple products and services in a digital flow that naturally enables the user to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Move from customer-centric to seeker-centric:  Your cousin’s wedding is next month and you have nothing to wear. You’re not looking forward to it. You need a new dress. Customer centric generates a coupon for a dress or a really large selection of dresses to choose from. Seeker centric connects the shopper with a stylist for the dress. Both result in a dress purchase. Which customer is happier and ultimately more loyal?

All over the Internet, you’ll find businesses and organizations reorienting the user experience to put the seeker at the center. These are companies that recognize choice is great but we can do much more to make the experience positive and productive. Uber doesn’t rent you a car, it provides the transportation option you seek. HotelTonight doesn’t sell you a hotel room for the night, it assists the user seeking impromptu accommodations. StitchFix doesn’t sell you a dress, it provides the fashion assistance shoppers seek.

When businesses only serve the customer rather than seeker – they miss out on the opportunity to build a deep and lasting connection. As more companies step up to move from customer to seeker centricity, those that don’t will be marginalized.

We are all seekers in search of optimal outcomes. It’s time for business to deliver that experience.


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Raj De Datta
Raj De Datta is the Co-founder and CEO of Bloomreach, the leader in digital and commerce experience. Before launching Bloomreach, he was entrepreneur-in-residence at Mohr-Davidow Ventures, served as Cisco’s director of product marketing and was on the founding team of telecom company FirstMark Communications. Raj also worked in technology investment banking at Lazard Freres.

Raj is the author of the upcoming book from Columbia University Press, “The Digital Seeker” which is a guide for digital teams to build winning experiences. He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering with a certificate in Public Policy and International affairs from Princeton University and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.

Books by Raj De Datta
The Digital Seeker: A Guide for Digital Teams to Build Winning Experiences (Columbia Business School Publishing; June 1, 2021). Raj De Datta is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.