Neuroscience brain

The Science of Delivery Experience

The pandemic-driven surge in online shopping has revolutionised every facet of retail, with global ecommerce sales predicted to soar to $7.4 trillion annually by 2025.

Neuroscience brain banner

This promising future for ecommerce places retailers and carriers in a continuous race to meet ever-evolving customer expectations. Delivery experience (DX) has never been more crucial, with 76% of shoppers reporting that the anticipation of a delivery makes them feel happy and excited. Retailers agree that the post-purchase phase is where they can truly gain a competitive edge.

In the realm of DX, there are clear winners and losers, but where do you start? How can you ensure your customers enjoy a five-star experience from purchase to delivery and returns?

Have you ever used neuroscience to get inside the mind of your customer?

You might remember our popular Sorted Secret Shopper Report. Well, we’ve taken it up a notch with our latest customer journey analysis … with a twist! We’ve mystery shopped 10 well-known fashion retailers to get a first-hand look at what a typical customer journey entails, especially focusing on that all-important post-purchase experience.

But, as you know, we don’t do things by halves here at Sorted. We’ve teamed up with an expert panel of neuroscientists, who meticulously conducted in-depth neuroscientific analysis on these brand journeys. This unique research dives into your customer’s mind, predicting how they’re likely to respond to online shopping stimuli. It’s not just about delivery experience; it’s about the science behind it.

Inside …

In this report, we delve into the neuroscience behind the delivery experience (DX) of 10 leading retailers. We provide you with actionable insights so you can turn inspiration into action.

  • Discover the basics of neuroscience and its value for retail.
  • Compare 10 retailers’ scores using our unique barometer.
  • Read neuroscientific analyses of 10 customer journey experiences.
  • Learn why fashion is considered the litmus test for the future of DX innovation.

Chapter 1

An introduction to neuroscience

It’s all about brains here as we simplify neuroscience. We’ll explain how it helps us understand what makes customers tick and how our findings can be applied to retail.

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Chapter 2

Analysis, barometer and post-purchase focus

See how the retailers stack up side by side in our unique barometer. Get a summary of what our neuroscientists said about each journey and how customers might respond. We focus on delivery and returns, showing how DX begins even before the ‘buy’ button is clicked.

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Chapter 3

Action plan

Now that we’ve done the science legwork, find out how you can use this valuable information to give your customers the ultimate delivery experience.

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Chapter 4

What’s next?

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Lab coats on

Neuroscience explores the intricacies of the human nervous system, blending fields like physiology, anatomy, biology, cytology, psychology and mathematical modelling. That’s a lot of big words and ologies! At its heart, neuro is a multifaceted science aimed at deciphering the biological underpinnings of learning, memory, behaviour, perception and consciousness.

A specific application of neuroscience, often referred to as neuromarketing, examines how the brain influences behaviour in relation to the psychological processes and neural links that occur when we come into contact with brands, campaigns, consumer experiences and packaging. This approach helps us grasp the subconscious reactions people experience when they encounter various marketing stimuli – in this case, a particular customer experience or piece of marketing.

The busy brain

Contrary to the common myth that humans use only 10% of their brains, we actually engage nearly every part of it. Even at rest, the brain uses around 20% of our metabolic energy (UCL).

Besides basic functions like regulating our bodies and keeping us alive, the brain is responsible for every decision we make – from instinctive reactions like fight or flight, to what to eat for breakfast. Given the vast number of decisions we face daily (some studies estimate around 35,000), it’s no wonder the brain takes shortcuts to conserve energy and streamline processes.

Remarkably, 95% of purchasing occurs subconsciously, with many choices becoming automatic, relying on memories, intuitions, past experiences and emotions. Most subconscious processing is emotional, rather than logical or deliberate. So, while not completely governed by the subconscious, conscious decision-making plays a smaller role in our daily actions than we might think.

This is where the power of neuroscience comes into play.

Meet the experts


Think Beyond boasts decades of study and research experience in the field of neuromarketing, consulting and neuroscience – including customer experience analysis projects for large, global businesses. For this report, we’ve partnered with Think Beyond aand their expert panel of neuroscience doctors.

Chapter 1 – An introduction to neuroscience

Retail’s rationale for neuroscience

The brain can make an emotional decision in less than a tenth of a second

We’re often unaware of our subconscious choices, making it difficult for customers to articulate them when asked. Sure, rating a checkout experience an ‘8’ on an NPS scale is a win, and feedback like “found it hard to find the right product” is valuable. But a number and a comment box won’t reveal how frustrating your checkout delivery options were, or how that high cognitive load stopped them from adding more items to their basket.

All methods of gathering customer insights have value, offering a comprehensive view of customer opinions, behaviours and emotions. However, traditional techniques such as surveys, questionnaires, interviews and focus groups can introduce bias or inaccuracies. This happens because customers often share their conscious beliefs, unaware of their underlying subconscious reactions.

While neuroscience isn’t mind-reading, it equips researchers and scientists with tools to dig deeper and uncover the hidden drivers behind consumer behaviour. Neuroscience can predict or measure physiological and emotional responses using methods that are generally less prone to bias compared to traditional market research tactics.

There are four main types of neuroscience study:

Laboratory neuroscience

Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure brain activity.

In-person neuroscience

Using physical wires and sensors to track measures such as electrical brain activity (EEG), skin response (GSR) and eye tracking.

Online neuroscience

Using mobile devices to assess measures such as implicit association tests (IATs), eye tracking and pupillometry.

Offline neuroscience

These studies are twofold: combining research and analysis with empirical studies to predict responses, or leveraging existing theory and knowledge by experts to forecast outcomes.

When applied to retail, studies of this depth provide unprecedented insights. In today’s complex retail landscape, gaining a competitive edge hinges on meeting and exceeding customer expectations. A CapGemini report found that 82% of consumers with high emotional engagement remain loyal when making purchase decisions, highlighting the tangible business benefits of truly understanding your customer.

It’s time to offer a delivery experience (DX) led by the wants and needs of the customer, rather than just those of the retailer.

Fashion as retail’s litmus test

In recent years, retailers have faced numerous challenges. Although people have returned to physical stores, online shopping remains the primary channel for many. Projections indicate that 38% of retail sales will take place online by 2026.

As the shift to ecommerce accelerates, so do customer expectations. Brands must evolve to keep up. Where there are difficulties, leading brands find solutions; front-runner retailers innovate to exceed customer expectations.

As industry professionals prepare for the future, there is no better way to learn than from their peers. This is where our research into the delivery experience of customer purchasing journeys comes in. This report focuses on 10 online fashion retailers, but other retail sectors shouldn’t skim over the findings. Quite the opposite, in fact.


Fashion retail has always been at the forefront of innovation, and its versatility during the pandemic was particularly instructive. Fashion retailers quickly improved their online platforms, introducing longer returns and contactless pickup. This agility set a high standard for delivery and returns across many ecommerce sectors, not just fashion.

Granted, expectations may change based on product needs, but when it comes to customer and delivery experience, the challenges remain the same. These challenges spur innovation, and fashion has always prioritised innovation that provides the ultimate customer experience, especially along the post-purchase journey. Fashion retailers clearly understand the importance of the delivery and returns experience, where the brand can truly connect with the customer. So sometimes it’s good to take the blinkers off and look to other retail industries – and fashion has historically been the one to push the boundaries.

Today’s online shoppers expect quick, on-time delivery and simple returns. A staggering 45% of carts are abandoned due to insufficient delivery options, emphasising the value of a customer-centric approach to last-mile delivery. Meanwhile, 81% of shoppers will write off a retailer if they encounter problems with the return process.

Our report explores why and how fashion retailers excel at shipping and returns. Our findings provide significant insights for other ecommerce businesses, such as those in beauty, electronics and homeware, looking to improve their customer experience and remain competitive.

Want to find out more about the opportunities in DX?

Chapter 2 – Analysis, barometer and post-purchase focus

The customer journey – pre-purchase to post-purchase

Our panel of neuroscientists used the five-point Likert scale to assess a number of essential elements throughout the entire buying journey: pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase.

So, to break it down:


Touchpoints, product info, availability, comparisons, reviews, search filters, contact etc.


Access to basket, wish lists, delivery options, order history, sign up, login options etc.


Trust, gateway, processing, process, 3-D Secure/SafeKey/Bank, validation info, payment exceptions etc.


Shipping cost, shipping method, delivery dates, reference number, tracking info, notifications, personalisation, carrier/retailer interaction et


Ease of return, labels, process, refund, confirmation, return status information etc.

Findings, by retailer


In 2022, Adidas saw double-digit growth in online and offline direct-to-consumer sales, indicating a continued strategic focus on D2C. It’s no surprise that the brand performed well in the investigation, given that it refers to ecommerce as its “most important store”.

The neuroscientists highlighted that with only one delivery and one click-and-collect option available during mystery shopping, the buyer may feel powerless due to a lack of control. However, fast delivery and great overall brand engagement had a broader impact on the customer image.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

Instead of separating the return and repurchase actions, the returns process allowed the customer to switch to an alternative size or colour. This made things easier for the customer, reducing cognitive stress.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

There were 11 communications in less than 24 hours (from both the carrier and the retailer via various channels), which may be regarded as excessive and may result in needless cognitive load in such a short period of time.


Freemans is a trusted brand that has been around for more than a century. With a background in catalogue commerce, the brand is part of Freemans Grattan Holdings, a group that receives over two million web visits every year and produces 75% of its sales online.

The neuroscientists noticed that some aspects of our mystery shopping experience felt out of date when compared to other retailers. However, the overall barometer score is only slightly below average, with a strong DX score.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

Contextualised filters during the pre-purchase journey were described as “amazing”. The delivery phase of the journey received the highest rating across all barometer measures.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

In our mystery shop, we discovered that parcel tracking updates were unavailable for several hours, which might be considered excessive and outside of “the safe period”. The safe period is a variable amount of time during which a customer does not engage in significant unconscious thought regarding the whereabouts of the parcel.


The mystery shopping experience revealed a few issues, particularly with the delivery experience, and Gymshark scored below average in the barometer. However, despite being founded only 10 years ago, the $1bn empire is still expanding globally. In a market where its brand equity grows every day and is one of the freshest compared to larger, more established brands, the neuroscientists remarked that there’s plenty of room for the company to continue to improve the customer post-purchase experience.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

Too many stimuli can overwhelm the brain and cause decision-making delays; nevertheless, the stimulus levels on the Gymshark website were adequate for shopping purposes.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

A shipping delay caused the original parcel to be lost, and Gymshark supplied a replacement. Both the original and the replacement were eventually delivered. Synchronised courier tracking and expectation management should be improved.


There’s no stopping H&M. In 2021, online shopping increased by 30%, and ecommerce accounts for six billion of H&M Group’s €19bn revenue.

Given the channel’s size, we were pleased to see such effective communication and expectation setting. Despite some tracking concerns, the neuroscientists praised H&M as the post-purchase star, citing a number of strengths and improvements that might significantly improve the customer delivery experience.continue to improve the customer post-purchase experience.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

There was little to detract from the dopaminergic effect of buying at H&M. Delivery communications were “step-by-step”. Researchers discovered that estimating the delivery time period is best practice (it prevents the brain from beginning to mimic and speculate about delivery time) and lowers cognitive discomfort.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

Communications could have been sent from the H&M app, reinforcing the H&M brand and improving the unconscious perception of H&M. Furthermore, H&M sent a notification stating that the parcel was delivered around four days after delivery, which affects the customer’s view of coherence and congruence.

Jack & Jones

JACK & Jack & Jones operates over 800 locations worldwide, with thousands of wholesale partners and a robust online presence. The neuroscientists gave positive feedback about the onsite menu functionality (saying that the performance “does not affect cognitive load or stimuli saturation”), and noted a good cross-sell engine.

Neuroscientific analysis suggests that there are several post-purchase issues to address that affect customer delivery experiences, such as the seven-day delivery window and a tracking gap discovered during the mystery shopping experience.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

Our neuroscientists stated that it was strong in both upsell engine and stimulus saturation (i.e., the clarity of information presented to the customer for processing).


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

During the secret shopping, a delivery status check revealed that no tracking was available. This is a significant risk and failure of expectation management, with the potential to elicit an overwhelming negative emotional response, such as rage, because you’ve paid for something you cannot validate, lowering your overall opinion of the purchasing experience.

Louis Vuitton

The Louis Vuitton experience, the most expensive brand in our index, provided neuroscientists with plenty of material to study. With a strong returns process but potential for improvement in the basket experience, customer expectations are likely to be sky-high when shopping with such a luxury brand. The retailer’s score was at the lower end of the barometer, but it featured certain outstanding qualities that boosted the favourable dopaminergic effects.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

The information on display prior to purchase, such as parcel package descriptions, is appropriate for product selection, and the product pages are generally good.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

With two delivery options – one click-and-collect and one seven-day home delivery – the neuroscientists observed that this is slower than Louis Vuitton customers are likely to unconsciously anticipate.


Missguided serves over four million active customers aged 18 to 30 and operates in more than 180 countries worldwide. Following some recent short-term challenges following supply chain disruption, Missguided’s pure play model ranks it as one of the top brands in the barometer.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

Missguided minimised the possibility of negative valence emotions by providing a quick and efficient delivery service.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

Delivery update notifications were primarily received late in the evening. Many sleep studies suggest that late-night exposure to blue light provided by electronic backlit screens disrupts our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms by suppressing the release of melatonin, which causes us to feel tired.


Nike’s post-purchase performance was somewhat lower than the average of the 10 retailers in the barometer, but still impressive. Despite some post-purchase performance problems, our neuroscientists ranked the brand among the top four highest-scoring brands.

The retailer is the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel. In recent years, it has terminated relationships with numerous high-profile third-party sellers like Urban Outfitters and Macy’s, in a deliberate move to focus on D2C channels – a model that reflects a customer-centric experience.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

The amount of information about the delivery procedure is sufficient to avoid any suspicion (any cause not to trust the retailer).


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

An opportunity to see the anticipated delivery time on the product page listing may help the customer’s subconscious decision to add to the basket, setting helpful expectations for delivery as soon as feasible.

TK Maxx

The neuroscientists discovered that TK Maxx, which has traditionally focused on bricks and mortar encounters, outperformed the barometer average. The post-purchase experience was one of the most comprehensive in the investigation, and despite some delivery delays, communications and resolution were identified as areas where customers are likely to respond positively due to reduced cognitive load.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

The parcel delivery information was among the most complete in the analysis, with updates supplied even before the carrier received the parcel from the retailer. The neuroscientists also observed that delivery information was properly integrated into the retailer’s website.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

Our mystery shop discovered that the parcel required payment for return (despite contradictory information on the back of the dispatch note stating that “return by post only” items are free). This may be unexpected and create upset.


The Very Group has 4.8 million active customers and delivers 49 million items annually. Very is known for being a retailer with a customer-first obsession, and there are numerous opportunities to see its customer delivery experience become even more effective.


What happened that prompted a good response from the customer?

A number of areas were praised as “amazing”, including a customer service interaction during the mystery shopping experience that was resolved politely and quickly. The Very Group estimates its chatbots answer 268,000 customer queries per month and receive around 2.2 million daily website views.


What happened to elicit a bad customer response?

During the mystery shop, the Very website initially denied the return and forced the shopper to contact customer services. However this isn’t as simple as the customer may believe, given the expectations generated by the banner advertising free returns and a “no hassle, no fuss” approach. This is an area for development, as fully automated returns processes via the website can prevent disappointment, which is a negative emotional reaction to a questioned or broken promise.

Fashion customer journey average score 7.8

Our barometer, the first of its kind, utilises independent analysis from neuroscientists and customer journey experts. The scoring and ranking consider both conscious and unconscious customer responses, evaluating pre- and post-purchase experiences equally based on 40 elements that scientific studies suggest are most crucial to customer experience. Here’s what they found …

Adidas score

Freemans score

GymShark score

HM score

Jack Jones score

Louis Vitton score

Miss Guided score

Nike score

TK Maxx score

Very score

The results? Fashion is on fire

The barometer analysis revealed excellent customer experiences at major fashion retailers, with Adidas, Nike, H&M and TK Maxx ranking highest. While it’s encouraging that the neuroscience analysis shows relatively consistent results, it also presents a challenge. The competitive landscape necessitates differentiation. To stand out, retailers must prioritise tactics for attracting and retaining customers.

So where is the opportunity?

The analysis gave equal weight to pre-purchase and post-purchase experiences. When comparing the two, post-purchase scores are higher on average. This indicates that the delivery and returns experience tends to elicit a more positive response from customers than the pre-purchase phase.

This aligns with expectations, as merchants often excel in delivery and returns due to the potential for innovation and the risk of reputational harm and operational impact on customer service.

High post-purchase scores suggest that neuroscientists see this as a strong area. This is promising because it signals that expectations are high. However, if multiple retailers provide good but not outstanding experiences, there’s a risk of stagnation. Although the scores are positive, if retailers rest on their laurels or if customer expectations are met but not exceeded, shoppers will quickly gravitate towards standout delivery experiences.

Breaking down the barometer further, we found one outlier: a top-performing retailer that excelled during our mystery shopping experience and scored highly in the neuroscientific study. This retailer significantly boosts the post-purchase average barometer score. The other retailer scores are closely grouped, with a range of only 8.2.

Borometer score

We anticipate a wide range of experiences, innovations and substantial score discrepancies in this area. However, retailers need to catch up – or, more precisely, spread out – in making their DX a differentiator. The only physical interaction between the brand and the ecommerce customer occurs after the transaction.

Changes to payment options, product search or basket functionality are often divided into two categories: high development resource for major changes or quick fixes for marginal gains. Various strategies can shape the pre-purchase experience, influencing overall customer satisfaction. Post-purchase, crucial improvements can be made that significantly enhance services over time.

The reality is that post-purchase improvements have a greater impact than high-effort, low-return marginal gains before clicking the buy button. With independent scientists estimating that the delivery experience alone accounts for 35% of the entire customer journey, we believe retailers should focus their efforts here.

Want to find out more about the opportunities in DX?

Chapter 3 – Action plan

Here’s your action plan

Although the barometer and retailer findings are interesting, this research isn’t about comparing and naming and shaming, but rather about drawing on the inspiration and lessons from some of the UK’s largest and most successful fashion retailers. Here are the main takeaways from our report:


Maintain momentum on DX innovation and investment as a high-performing touchpoint in the market, because your competitors will.

Fashion retailers face tremendous competition in delivery and returns, with little separating businesses from the pack. Any lapse in progress in this area is likely to result in you falling behind.


DX begins before the purchase button; use delivery and returns as a conversion tool.

When analysing pre-purchase data, our neuroscientists identified certain components in the customer journey that could, consciously or unconsciously, lead to customers abandoning the purchase and dropping out.

Whether it’s outlining a clear returns process or providing clarity and a variety of shipping alternatives, delivery experience is a competitive advantage before the buy button.


Consider parcel tracking and customer delivery and returns updates as a way to reduce delivery failures and customer contact centre stress.

Customer service is frequently highlighted as a major issue in retailer reviews, which is consistent with neuroscientific findings. The few times our mystery shoppers had to call customer support, it was invariably due to a breakdown in communication about delivery or returns.

Self-serve customer tracking pages and regular communications can significantly improve customer satisfaction, increase first-time delivery success, and reduce customer service calls all at the same time. With tracking, you manage messages during a vital period before the customer experiences dopaminergic delivery after consumption.


Make DX a clear, easy and consistent loyalty tool.

According to Sorted’s consumer surveys, 75% of consumers would stop using a retailer if they frequently messed up communication updates on their delivery, and 21% indicated not receiving regular updates on the status of their deliveries would cause them to shop elsewhere. Customers aren’t afraid to shift their spending to a competitor if your DX falls short.

Of course, the opposite is also true: A strong DX is an incentive to stay loyal and keep spending. This was made clear during the mystery shopping exercise, with retailers providing positive experiences being more likely to improve brand perception.

Chapter 4 – What’s next?

That wraps up the first of our neuroscience reports

Do you want to learn more about how DX transformation may boost your digital and brand engagement, lower WISMO and WISMR, and deliver vital customer data and insights?

Start optimising your delivery experience now

About Sorted

Sorted is a refreshingly agile and data-driven software company, powering dynamic checkouts, carrier management, delivery tracking and automating returns management around the world. Through partnerships with some of the biggest global carriers and customer-obsessed retailers, Sorted transforms every delivery journey into a 5* customer experience.

Trusted by leading global retailers – such as ASOS, Farfetch and Lush – Sorted’s delivery experience platform fixes poor delivery choice, broken customer promises and disjointed post-purchase communication to increase customer happiness, drive loyalty and support retail growth.

With software now live in 17 countries, Sorted is recognised as one of fastest growing companies in Europe as named by the FT and one of the UK’s most successful digital businesses by Tech Nation’s Future Fifty, Europe’s leading late-stage growth programme.

This report is based on analysis by trained neuroscientists from a small sample size of evidence collected from a typical, one off purchase by shoppers based in the UK – and should be read in this context. All branded screenshots and logos are owned by the retailers and are used in this report non-commercially.