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Q&A: Brian McGlynn, E-Commerce General Manager at Coveo

To learn more about how consumer e-commerce habits and expectations are changing, we caught up with Brian McGlynn, general manager of e-commerce at Coveo, a market-leading AI-powered relevance platform that injects search, recommendations and personalization solutions into digital experiences. 

In this Q&A interview, Brian shares insights from Coveo’s Relevance Report 2021: Ecommerce along with tips and tricks for retailers aiming to improve their online experience.



RR: With the pandemic, we saw shoppers’ e-commerce habits and expectations change. Do you think these changes will last long-term?


BM: If we go back to 2019, consumers were already expecting e-commerce to be better than in-person shopping. As 2020 came along with COVID-19 and the shut down of in-person channels, the experiences that were good and the experiences that were subpar were outed.


BM: We recently conducted our 2021 relevance report where we surveyed upwards of 2000 shoppers and we found that 90% of consumers expect the online experience to be equal or better than the in-store experience.


RR: Wow. Can you break down the elements of a great shopping experience? What does that look like to consumers?


BM: If you think about the analog world where someone walks into a store, they want to go in a purchase a couple of things. Whether it’s a shopper that’s on a mission or someone that’s going in for inspiration, what they expect is that they’ll find what’s relevant to them. They expect to find service staff that can answer their questions efficiently.


RR: You work with some notable retailers such as Famous Footwear and Polaris. What are some of the common struggles facing e-commerce and multichannel retailers in 2021?


BM: The challenges for online is first retail and second search. 50% of the traffic that goes to a retail site is via search.


BM: I always say, anecdotally, “You don’t Yahoo something, you Google something.” So, it’s a matter of where those wars were fought 10 – 20 years ago. Clearly, the public is attuned to having that question and answer. Just like when walking into a store and asking an associate where something is located, people like to ask questions and receive answers—and site search is one of those unsung heroes in a lot of cases.


BM: If you look at Amazon, that is the primary interface where people will go in, pose a question, look for something and then come back. That’s really what we look at with being able to provide that best-in-class experience.


BM: With Polaris, its focus was on creating an experience where people could look for inventory inside their location. When you go online, there are a lot of tech limitations that have precluded early technologies from being aware of inventory, location,  taste, color, and other items that would present to the user what they’re looking for or what they might be looking for.


RR: You mentioned Amazon. Amazon, Wayfair, and others have set the bar high when it comes to customer experiences. Is it possible for smaller retailers to compete with these commerce giants?


BM: To compete with the likes of Amazon, it really comes down to that curated experience and being able to do it well.


RR: What can retailers do to provide a better-curated e-commerce experience?


BM: Google, Apple, and certainly others are bringing in restrictions on cookies and first and third-party data that are required by a lot of the traditional personalization engines. Retailers doing personalization really need to look at different technologies. We introduced something called “personalization as you go,” where we attached a lot of machine learning and artificial intelligence to the product space.


BM: By understanding the product data and people’s interaction with it, you can begin to mimic, at this point, a personal shopping assistant. For us, the gold standard is taking that best experience that you’d see in a store and being able to mirror that back down to the individual with how they go shopping. ♦


To hear more from Brian McGlynn, check out his full podcast interview.