Once upon a time, if a storeowner provided bad service, there wasn’t much a customer could do. They could refuse to do business with the company, if possible, or they could tell their family and friends about their bad experience.

Things have changed quite a bit since then. Technological advances have put power in the hands of consumers, giving them the ability to ask more of businesses, provided them with more choices and generally made us all into savvier shoppers. With hundreds or even thousands of retailers offering the same products at the same prices, the choice often comes down to factors like payment options, return policies and how easy the retailers website is to use.

1. The rise of social media as an integral part of the customer experience

If you fail to satisfy a customer now, you will often find that the word gets out quickly, via channels like Yelp, Facebook, YouTube and Amazon. According to iProspect and Jupiter Research, 25 % of the U.S. population visits sites like these at least once each month, sharing complaints and compliments about retailers with other shoppers.

Because online shopping does not allow the consumer to physically handle the product before making a purchase nor is it as easy to ask questions as it would be in a brick and mortar retail establishment, people now rely on the opinions of other consumers more so than anything else. Like the shot heard around the world, consumer complaints can and do make a difference.

2. Instant information at the customer’s fingertips

In just the past ten years, technology has turned most of us into savvy Internet shoppers and driven prices downward, as consumers are able to purchase 24/7 and have their purchases delivered immediately. While ecommerce lacks the human dimension that shoppers experience in a real life shop, the internet is only part of the picture, according to industry observers.

For those consumers and companies who can handle it, technology will continue to improve the whole proposition. It has to, because the industry can’t find enough people, train enough people and the client isn’t willing to pay for superior service when a competitor has it for a lower price.

We’re not saying the trusted salesperson will be replaced at Saks, Neiman’s or Nordstrom’s, but in most of retail, providing service with people is going to make it harder for them to compete.

-Al Myers, senior VP of TNS Retail Forward Inc.

3. New customer tools and contact channels

It won’t be long before we are scanning entire grocery carts and paying for its contents with a thumbprint. Or consumers may be able to send images directly from dressing room mirrors to friends, eliminating the need to ask the opinion of a salesperson.

As retailers move from bricks and mortar locations to Internet-driven environments, the balance between operational needs and profits and customer demand for low prices and excellent service will continue to be a difficult one. The question is whether the end result will be a superior customer experience for consumers, particularly with companies who have had trouble with client service.

The same companies that provide bad customer service will provide bad technology and vice versa.