It is a great time to be a consumer. On one hand, we can walk into a big-box store, find exactly the product we want, then find the least expensive option on our phone and have it delivered to our door.

On the other hand, we do not have to leave the house to grocery shop, get a massage or visit the doctor. Technology has had an undeniable and, in many cases, unexpected impact on consumerism. This disruption of the traditional customer experience provides myriad threats and opportunities for all retail businesses.

SWOT to the rescue

Unbundling and decoupling are two ways the customer experience has been changed. The former refers to the ability to buy things a la carte that were previously part of a larger package (like buying one song instead of a CD or subscribing only to HBO instead of a monthly cable TV payment).

Decoupling, as Thales Texeira refers to it in his new book, "Unlocking the Customer Value Chain," involves "breaking the links in how consumers discover, buy and use products and services." Both unbundling and decoupling are creating opportunities for and threats against traditional retail shops.

Consider the ability to order flowers online. This customer convenience may have shuttered some flower shops, but in other cases, the associated technologies allowed local flower shops to increase their customer base by adding long-distance value to local customers and filling the local needs of faraway customers.

Next steps

The key for retail leaders is to understand how the steps in their various customers’ journeys.

McKinsey research on pricing in retail explains five key ways internet has affected the retail landscape: the availability of multiple purchase channels; ease for both customers and retailers to compare prices; the ability for retailers to implement dynamic pricing; price comparisons, personalized sales and shopping experiences; and the availability of more data with more detail than ever.

In particular, the increase in data and ability to gather feedback from a more personalized shopping experience afford retailers an increased ability to understand the steps each customer takes before, during, and after a purchase. This information is essentially the crystal ball to peer into to find both the strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited in the customer experience.

Understanding that leads us to the second step: realizing our competition is not limited to the flower shop in the next town or even the online flower retailer.

On the contrary, competition can come from anywhere. What happens if Amazon buys FTD and then starts providing professional flower shop services in all of its Whole Foods locations? Thus, to begin to take advantage of and hedge against disruptions, we need to go deeper with our understanding of our current customers while thinking outside the usual spheres of opportunities and threats.

The bottom line is, competition and disruption in the customer experience can be customer driven and benefit the customer, but it can also be led by innovative organizations that embrace data to anticipate — or better, create — customer needs.