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The New Era of E-Commerce Personalization

A personalized shopping experience gives e-commerce sites an edge, and businesses increasingly have been seeking ways to make their customers feel welcome.

“Every business should make their customers feel like they are the most important customer in the world,” said Rob Maille, head of strategy and customer experience at CommerceCX.

“To do that you need to know and anticipate their wants and needs to deliver the most frictionless shopping experience possible,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “When a customer feels like they are treated well, they tend to purchase more goods and endorse the provider with repeat business and word of mouth.”

Customers are willing to pay a premium for more personalized experiences.

“Research from Deloitte found that one in four consumers are willing to pay more for a personalized product, and that reflects what we’re seeing in the market,” said Kris Goldhair, strategic account director at KBMax.

“We’re in an era of instant gratification, where customers want what they want, when they want it, and they assign greater value to custom goods as opposed to something that’s mass-produced,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The more customers experience personalization in their shopping experiences, the more they expect it every time they visit an e-commerce site.

“Customers have come to expect unique and personalized experiences with brands every time they interact with them — whether online, in-store or via mobile devices,” observed Sarah Assous, senior vice president for marketing at Zoovu.

“The myriad of options available to today’s consumers allows them to choose from numerous vendors and explore countless products online. However, while the vast number of product options is beneficial, it can ultimately lead to roadblocks in consumers’ ability to make a selection, better known as ‘choice overload,'” she told the E-Commerce Times.

The more ubiquitous personalization becomes, the more customers are inclined to evaluate companies by the degree of personalization they offer at every step of the way in their shopping experiences.

“As we embark on this new era of e-commerce, where customer expectations are rising every day, companies have an opportunity to differentiate by providing an in-store personalized experience online,” said Ryan Lester, senior director of customer experience technologies at LogMeIn.

“Whether that’s helping customers with product discovery or delivering proactive support, it’s these types of experiences that help companies make the most of the short time they have with their buyers,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Getting Personal

Artificial intelligence is a particularly important part of any kind of customized shopping experience, since it serves as a bridge between customers and e-commerce retailers.

“The deployment of AI-powered conversational marketing tools is a key first step,” noted Zoovu’s Assous. “Conversational marketing tools are able to guide consumers through the buyer journey to ensure that consumers are able to identify their ideal products and make the appropriate purchase accordingly. Recent data shows that 81 percent of consumers said using a digital sales assistant would increase their purchase decision-confidence.”

In combination with customer data, AI can be an invaluable tool.

“An effective way retailers are using data with their integrated CRM systems is to create customized promotions and attractive incentive offers suited to each customer in an effort to improve their chances of driving conversions,” noted CommerceCX’s Maille.

Effective personalization requires getting all the technology and data to work together seamlessly to deliver a unique experience to each customer.

“It all starts with creating a streamlined personalization and buying experience with a solid CPQ (configure, price, quote) solution,” said KBMax’s Goldhair.

“Such a solution helps to dissolve the silos between sales and engineering in order to facilitate more prompt communication and fulfill customer expectations for a speedy, personalized experience,” he pointed out. “A quality CPQ solution can also eliminate the pressure that retail manufacturers might feel to overhaul all systems, perfect a custom solution, or invest a lot into a proprietary tool. The right third-party solution provider can help to reduce time-to-market and establish a workflow specially suited for mass customization manufacturing.”

Though it can be expensive, customizing customer experiences and products may be worth the investment.

“Retailers are beginning to discover that the expense of investing in mass customization as a trend is worth the extra sales — especially with the help of emerging 4IR (fourth industrial revolution) technologies like CPQ,” said Goldhair. “These solutions can help manufacturers handle the increased production of custom goods while keeping overhead costs low.”

It’s important to remember, however, that delivering a truly customized shopping experience is a long process.

“What’s most important to remember is that digital transformation doesn’t need to happen overnight,” cautioned Goldhair. “Companies should slowly chip away in order to prevent overspending on unnecessary technology. By taking everything one step at a time, manufacturers can take advantage of revolutionary tech while slowly changing their processes and avoid feeling overwhelmed.”

The Future of Personalization

Customization in the future likely will continue to evolve into ever more personalized shopping experiences.

“When this is done right, the shopping, buying and service experience of a modern commerce ecosystem will have a direct impact on the experience, which will make the technology feel like a trusted friend,” said Maille. “You can’t get more personalized than that.”

Customers increasingly will expect their personalized products to be delivered almost instantaneously, which means that the pathways between ordering, manufacturing and shipping will need to be seamless.

“It’s one thing to offer personalization and another to respond with the speed today’s customers expect,” said Assous. “If manufacturers really want to be prepared to ramp up production quickly, they need automated tools in place to quickly configure products and produce accurate quotes, produce engineering specifications, transmit a bill of materials into an ERP system to ensure an adequate supply of raw materials is available, and share all this information with the manufacturing floor.”

Over time, personalization is likely to shape nearly all aspects of the shopping experience, from a customer’s initial browsing to the manufacturing and shipping of products.

“Today, not very many companies go beyond the recommendation engines, but soon it will become a normal part of the experience,” predicted LogMeIn’s Lester.

“As personalization continues to mature, we’ll see it move from a reactionary mode — that is, answering a question in a contextual and tailored way — to more of an assistive role, where technology will be able to keep a perpetual conversation with the customer going so that companies can better identify their customers’ needs. This creates long-term engagement that can result in additional purchases and brand loyalty.”


Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. Email Vivian.

Retailers’ Most Common Cloud Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

It’s easy to understand why so many retail organizations have moved their infrastructure to the cloud. Cloud-based architecture allows provisioning nearly infinite compute instances on-demand in minutes. There is no need for upfront licensing or infrastructure costs, meaning a faster return on investment can usually be realized.

The most lauded benefits of all, however, are the unmatched agility and scalability of the cloud, given deployments can be fully automated using application programming interfaces, or APIs. This enables retailers to deploy new services or capabilities at equal pace with market demand and quickly expand or shrink their operations.

Overall, cloud technology can provide an invaluable competitive edge and allow retailers to react quickly to ever-changing consumer needs.

Hasty Cloud Implementation Leads to Chronic Challenges

The numerous benefits made possible by cloud technology are real. However, many retail organizations follow a herd mentality because they are afraid of being left behind. They reason that many of their peers and competitors are leveraging cloud-based systems and tapping into their seemingly infinite benefits, so they should as well.

However, the problem with the cloud attaining a cult-like status is that many retailers implement the technology too eagerly. Without thinking through their unique needs and goals, retail organizations quickly experience chronic challenges that compound over time.

For instance, retailers that adopt a single-source public cloud may initially experience the cost, agility and ecosystem benefits such technology can bring. Over time, though, complexities will inevitably arise that not only negate the initial benefits of the public cloud but can also impede business growth, anger customers and damage brand reputation.

Following are four common challenges that many retail organizations face when embracing cloud technology too hastily:

1. Rising Costs: In some cases, cloud services are initially free, and the affordability of the technology can serve as a true lifeline. This is particularly true for startups. However, as a business grows, it’s going to need to perpetually spin up more server instances.

If long-term growth and scalability aren’t considered and accounted for, cloud bills can quickly multiple to five or 10 times their initial cost. Complicating matters further, many retailers mistakenly assume the solution to rising cloud costs is simply moving to another or an additional cloud provider, but in doing so, service fees can become even higher and more difficult to effectively manage.

2. Service Incompatibility: The open source landscape has opened up opportunities for retailers to improve customer experience through various frameworks and applications. Some cloud providers may provide their own managed versions of these. However, they are upgraded less frequently compared to the open source releases, leading to lack of availability of the latest features.

The equivalent proprietary services offered by the cloud vendor are often less agile when it comes to adding features to the service. For example, a retailer that wants to take advantage of microservices technology to improve its customer experience is going to require a high-performance, scalable database capable of integrating with a variety of operating system applications. Open source databases often have a leg up compared to the cloud-vendor databases.

3. Vendor Lock-In: Being beholden to one cloud vendor can lead to both inability to leverage groundbreaking technology from other cloud vendors and uncompetitive pricing mechanisms that don’t scale along with business growth.

Even more concerning, vendor lock-in can lead to serious data portability problems, and retailers must always be prepared and able to move their data to another cloud vendor.

Consider the recent example of Walmart demanding its technology vendors stop running its applications (which hold sensitive Walmart data) on AWS, given the competition between Amazon and Walmart.

A lack of data portability has the potential to be a major sales roadblock for any organization in the retail industry, especially if any of their customers could be considered Amazon competitors.

4. Operational Complexity: Managing cloud environments isn’t for the faint of heart, especially as a business and its infrastructure scales. For instance, any zone or regional failures in public cloud environments can bring down data access, leaving IT teams scrambling in an attempt to recover their instance and assets as quickly as possible.

Compliance headaches can also occur when data isn’t in multi-region deployment, and traffic spikes can quickly drive up costs and lead to over-provisioning or the need for operations teams to manually monitor the cluster.

Best Practices for Cloud-Based Retail Systems

For retailers, ensuring that the cloud architecture has low latency and high availability is paramount. Customers don’t have a lot of patience and expect responsive online storefronts.

Amazon famously did a calculation showing how a page slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion. This means that retail organizations must be able to support large traffic spikes while retaining low read latencies during certain times of the week, month or year.

If an e-commerce platform isn’t able to manage incoming traffic due to a poorly designed, implemented or managed cloud infrastructure, the site will slow down, inventory and product review lookups will come to a crawl, and the checkout process will bottleneck. As a result, the customer experience suffers, dollars are lost, and the brand’s reputation gets dinged.

To prevent common cloud challenges from impacting a business’s bottom line, retailers should adhere to the following four best practices:

1. Ensure high availability. The unfortunate reality is that in the cloud, failures are inevitable. When they happen, retailers need to be able to recover quickly and mitigate the severity of the failure.

For business-critical applications in particular, be sure to implement sound geo-distributed deployments architectures. Tolerate node and zone failures automatically with multi-zone and fault-tolerant deployments.

Replicate data across regions to ensure against regional outages. This could involve using additional, different regions or even cloud providers like Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure to mitigate any business impact resulting from AWS failures, for instance.

Be sure to perform region outage fire-drills to ensure well-exercised contingency plans for diverting traffic to other regions when an outage occurs.

2. Ensure low latency. User experience is affected by latency, and it is important to serve requests with a low latency. Retailers must ensure low query latency by keeping data close to the users, which requires geo-replicated deployments with data present in multiple regions.

It is also important to understand the impact of outages and the necessary recovery time. Outages typically cause a temporary increase in latency because user requests have to be served by a datacenter that is farther away.

3. Ensure horizontal scalability. For many retailers, there is much, much more online traffic in the last few months of the year (typically October through December) than the rest of the year.

Spikes in traffic also can occur as a result of various actions, such as a well-placed advertisement. The impact of a traffic spike can be a dramatic increase in the number of simultaneous connections, number of reads, and the number of writes. It is important to ensure that all of them are scalable in the application.

4. Comply with data regulations. With data governance and privacy laws like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act becoming more prevalent and stringent, ensuring cloud-based data remains within compliance is essential.

Retailers should restrict their data distribution to specific geographies to best comply with data protection laws, as regulations like GDPR mandate that data be stored in particular regions (not leaving the region’s boundaries) and deleted whenever the data subject exercises their right to be forgotten.

Multicloud, Globally Distributed Data Architectures

Retailers’ unbridled enthusiasm for the cloud is admirable, and it’s also understandable how overwhelming effective cloud management can be. However, the key to successfully reaping the benefits of cloud technology is simple: Don’t put all your eggs in one cloud basket.

To support ever-changing infrastructure demands as a business scales and customer demands evolve, prioritize globally distributed data architectures rather than being beholden to one cloud vendor and all the limitations it imposes.

Once used only by technology giants like Facebook and Google, globally distributed data architectures can be applied to any business-critical enterprise applications.

It is also essential to pick the right geo-distribution strategy, depending on the exact microservice — such as retail product catalogs, checkout processes or logistics systems.

By adopting global data distribution, while also establishing contingency plans that ensure low latency, horizontal scalability and compliance with data governance regulations, retailers can confidently defend their most critical business assets against infrastructure failures and realistically take advantage of all the benefits cloud technology has to offer.


Karthik Ranganathan is CTO of YugaByte.

Can Brands Protect Privacy While Personalizing?

I sometimes think personalization is the best thing that happened to humankind in terms of marketing. As a consumer, I love getting suggestions on what to buy, especially when it’s exactly what I need.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m under constant surveillance, however, so I turn on my ad blockers, I surf in private mode, and I report ads that are not relevant to me. Of course, my marketer’s hat twists and turns when I do, but my peace of mind is more important than ads that are not relevant, right?

  • Most people have this type of relationship with technology. They view personalization and privacy as a dichotomy — we can have either one or the other. This goes back to the very definition of the words. According to Dictionary.com, personalization is the process of making something suitable for the needs of a particular person.
  • Privacy is a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people.

How can we create something specific without observing a person’s needs? We can’t. What we can do is create something personalized while making it less intrusive to a person’s privacy and personal data.

Data as the Modern Currency

There are two major currencies today besides money: attention and data. As Milton Friedman often said, “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” and nowhere is that more obvious than online. We consistently make a conscious tradeoff. We allow bits of ourselves to be observed just to gain access to a service or information.

We read articles, browse online forums, and interact on social media without paying any money. We are well aware we are giving something in return — first our attention, and then our data. Marketers need our attention to keep their services running. They also need data to optimize ad distribution and improve the relevancy of the services offered.

At least in theory, this practice should improve both the efficiency of services offered and the users’ customer experience. For most of us, this is a non-issue. The problems begin when users start feeling they have given much more than they received, and that their data is being abused.

As marketers, how do we make sure that line is never crossed? How do we balance between making sure users get the products they need without going too far into their personal matters?

When personalizing products and services, companies usually make the following mistakes:

  • Some companies employ “the more, the merrier” approach: They collect everything they can about the customer instead of focusing on the data they actually need.
  • They don’t make the privacy and security of customer data a priority.
  • They don’t tell their customers what kind of data they are collecting and how they are using it.

Therefore, it’s simple to say the key is collecting exactly the data we need, being transparent about it, and storing that data in a proper, secure form. How do we actually do that?

Underlying Value: Treating User Data With Respect

1. Which data do you need and what do you need it for?

If you don’t know what you need the data for, you don’t know what you need. Some businesses fall into the trap of thinking they should gather as much as possible, which can lead to many problems.

Aside from the fact you are being intrusive when it comes to the privacy of your customers, if you don’t know what to do with the data you have, most likely you won’t know what to do with the new data you collect. Think about it. Do you really need to know the name of my pet or my phone number? I can’t remember how many times I’ve entered my phone number into an online form as a requirement, while we both know your company won’t really need it in the future.

Collecting data is just the first step in a bigger process of gathering, measuring and analyzing data to make better decisions. It’s not just turning on cookies, tracking our customers, and pushing ads to them based on retargeting tools and similar audiences. It’s also about knowing what story to tell, when to tell it, how and where. Sometimes that data is all about interviewing our customers, but it also simply can be using patterns in communication.

Some user data you will use individually, while some you will use in an aggregated manner. For aggregated data, use pseudonyms or keep users anonymous if possible. That way you make sure data can’t be connected to a specific user. As a business, your main goal is to understand your customers. Make an audit of the data you have, and evaluate which pieces are important to the bigger picture.

2. What are you doing with the data?

Our task is to recognize and frame a problem, collect relevant data, process that data, and review the findings in order to relate them to the problem. The key issue here is that processing data, especially if algorithms are involved, can become similar to a Pandora’s Box, with nobody knowing what is in it or how it works after a while.

If you are selling towels and the only thing your algorithm does is make recommendations on the color, size and composition of towels, perhaps that is not as big of an issue. If your algorithm is in a position to impact the livelihood, health or other important aspects of someone’s life, it becomes a big issue. We need to know how data is processed to exclude bias and prejudice from the process.

I sometimes believe the reason behind all those complicated and vague Terms and Services documents is that people writing them don’t know the process themselves. Or perhaps they do, but they are purposely trying to obscure them with legal mumbo jumbo.

Well, use this as guidance: If you ever feel the need to obscure the process you are engaging in, it’s time to seriously rethink it. And I am not even speaking about selling data to other companies.

3. Is the data collected, processed and stored securely?

The issues raised so far were brought to light with recent data privacy regulations, such as GDPR. Even though they may not apply to your business, the guidelines represent a good standard to uphold. One thing it illuminated for many businesses is what securing your data really means, both online and offline.

Yes, if you have an online business you should be focusing on securing the online data. You should really know better than saving all your users’ passwords in plain text. However, if you have documents lying around your office, those may contain customer data as well, and you need to pay attention to that. However, when it comes to offering personalized services, the bigger issue often is human error.

There is no one person in charge of making sure your company is treating users’ data with respect, or at least not just one person. That job falls to each and every one of your employees. Just as employees at a five-star hotel know how to protect the privacy of their guests, all employees in contact with users’ personal data should be educated on how to handle it with care and discretion.

This, of course, should be based on your company’s procedures regarding how employees access data. It also is a good idea to ensure employees are accessing only the data they need for their job, rather than all the data available for the entire organization.

4. Are you transparent with your practices?

People are more than OK with giving away their data if they know why they are doing it and what they are getting in return. The issues arise when consumers feel they’ve been exploited. So it all comes to the issue of trust.

How do you build trust? By being transparent about every part of the process! I don’t mind when marketers track my online preferences if I know they will use it to provide me with a better service. I mind if I find out they sold that data without me knowing.

People appreciate the comfort provided by the modern age, and you might even be surprised by how much people are willing to share when the ball is left in their court.

Being transparent might mean reworking your Terms and Services, but you also should find other ways to educate your users about what they are accepting and signing up for when they use your service.

This can even be a way to strengthen your brand if you highlight all the measures you take to ensure your users’ data is treated with respect and protected in a safe and secure manner. Of course, this also means alerting users if you mess up — because it is bound to happen — and doing your best to fix the issue.

So, Can Brands Protect Privacy While Personalizing?

The answer to this question changes constantly with the development of technology, emerging privacy-protective regulations, and corresponding practices within organizations, but in general — yes.

I hope that after reading this, you think about the way you are treating customer data. We are living in a world of rapid change, with new technologies being introduced as we speak, all of which continue to impact the way we interact with users.

However, one thing should never change, and that is our attitude and approach toward users’ data. When it comes to the legal and technical aspects of protecting user data, it may be best to consult with qualified teams who can provide more specialized support.

However, I simply advocate for one thing: being mindful about your actions. When ethical principles and respecting the privacy of your users are at the core of everything your organization does, the rest will fall into place.



An economist by education, Natasa Djukanovic is the sales and marketing director of Domain.ME. She’s spent her entire career at the intersection of banking, social media, leadership and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.

The best software for filing your taxes — because you can never be too early

There are a number of programs that can help make filing taxes easier. If you are looking for a better solution for your tax situation, it’s a good idea to review your options. Our favorite tax software option is TurboTax. Among our list of options, TurboTax was the clear winner due to its ease of use and the fact that it provides explanations for most tax issues you may encounter.

If TurboTax isn’t in your price range or just isn’t your jam, then keep reading: We have five more tax software options to for you check out. Our other picks feature a variety of prices and useful tax prep services, so you’ll be sure to find something that works for you.

At a Glance

Tax Prep Software Use case Price
TurboTax Best Overall Tax Software Starting from $50
H&R Block Best Full-Service Tax Prep Software Starting from $30
TaxAct Best Tax Software for Experienced Customers Starting from $25
TaxSlayer Best Tax Software for Tax Pros Starting from $0
Liberty Tax Best Bare-Bones Tax Software Starting from $35
Credit Karma Best Free Tax Prep For Complex Returns Free

TurboTax

Best Overall Tax Software

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TurboTax from Intuit remains one of the most popular tax software options, and for good reason. The TurboTax system is easy to use, offers numerous explanations for all things tax-related, and has strong compatibility with past filings. The question-and-answer format makes filing on your own very easy, and there are online chat rooms with tax experts that you can consult should you run into anything too weird. The software also excels at helping you find deductions and ways to save more money.

However, there are a few issues worth noting. The interface can get a bit confusing when you are looking directly at your tax forms rather than using the TurboTax question format, which may make it difficult to find a specific form or answer a certain question not covered by the walkthrough. Also, TurboTax has some of the highest fees if you have taxes more complex than a basic filing, so be prepared to pay.

 H&R Block

Best Full-Service Tax Prep Software

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H&R Block’s services span apps, full programs, in-office visits, credit cards and much more: It’s a nice variety of options if you like choosing how to deal with your taxes, or you need some combination of digital self-filing and tax services to get everything done. Their primary tax program, however, is very similar to TurboTax, with a friendly interface and question-and-answer format that hides most of the real tax documents until the end. There are still plenty of online help and chat services, but it’s nice to have the option to make a real-world appointment if you want to. Keep on eye on extra charges for state filing though, as this is where H&R Block really raises the fees.

TaxAct

Best Tax Software for Experienced Customers

TaxAct-Online-Plus

TaxAct (once TaxEdge) takes you through your “Life Events” in the past year, and then walks you through how these events affect your state and income taxes, giving you the information you need to fill out the appropriate forms (although it won’t autofill everything for you).

It’s a simplified version of the TurboTax format that may be more suited to people who have been using tax programs for a while and don’t need so much handholding. 

TaxSlayer

Best Tax Software for Tax Pros

TaxSlayer 2018

TaxSlayer is another highly affordable option that you can use to save money on the download or save even more by filing your own taxes instead of hiring someone else to do it. The software has a simple, clean interface that turns your tax forms into basic digital information fill-outs, removing the confusion from tracking your tax documentation.

A number of professional accountants use TaxSlayer to help prepare their client’s taxes, so it does help to know the general layout of your taxes and what needs to be filled out this year (although there is a “Guide Me” option to make things easier). Searching through the forms is particularly quick here, thanks to powerful search tools. There are chat and phone support services if you get stuck at any part.

Liberty Tax

Best Bare-Bones Tax Software

Liberty Tax
There’s no free option for Liberty Tax, but the basic download comes with a variety of import tools to help you quickly gather your data from W-2s, last year’s return, ACA forms, and other documents. There are some powerful auto-fill features that make sure accurate information is transferred everywhere when you just have to import it once. Otherwise it’s a pretty simple program, although there is room for wizards that check for any important tax amendments and help you manage more complex scenarios.

However, it’s worth noting that while the Liberty Tax program is generally well-received, their brick-and-mortar establishment tend to have poor customer reviews, so it may not be the best option for face-to-face help.

Credit Karma

Best Free Tax Prep for Complex Returns

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Credit Karma can import tax returns made with TurboTax or H&R Block if you feel like making a switch. It’s useful as a free option you can use to save money while still working on a more complex return. The questionnaire style of the software is simple but fairly comprehensive, and support has grown by leaps and bounds since Credit Karma first came out. There’s now 24-hour chat services to help you figure out any sticky parts.

The interface makes this option particularly mobile friendly, but there is a catch to all of this. You need to sign up for a Credit Karma account, which gets you involved in a lot of other financial management stuff you may not be interested in (along with potential fees), so do a little research before jumping in.

Editors’ Recommendations

Time to grow up! Four laptops for the office professional

Finding the right laptop for work or business isn’t necessarily about opting for the nicest graphics cards (although those don’t hurt), or the most exuberant storage setup. It’s more about having a machine that can go with you wherever you need to be and doesn’t stop working when you need it most. The laptop that best meets the needs of business users, especially in terms of durability and support, is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme — and it doesn’t hurt that this is one fast and furious laptop to boot.

But all the laptops outlined below — pulled from our hundreds of reviews and our thousands of hours spent digging through the best laptops you can buy — cover all these bases and more, giving you strong hardware with a function-first approach.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

The best business laptop

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the most powerful 15-inch business-oriented laptop on the market.

Who’s it for: Any business professional who needs speed to go with great support and durability.

What we thought of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme:

Few laptop lines are as iconic as the ThinkPad. If you spend most of your time in a conference room rather than a coffeehouse, then chances are you’re going to give some thought to picking up one ThinkPad or another. The best of those is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme, a 15.6-inch laptop that offers the best mainstream components with the usual ThinkPad aesthetic, build quality, and support.

Prior to the X1 Extreme, the ThinkPad line depended on smaller laptops like the 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon to compete against larger business-class laptops. But the ThinkPad X1 Extreme changed that equation, bringing an 8th-generation, six-core Intel Core i7-8750H and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti with Max Q, to compete with the Dell XPS 15 and other mainstream laptops. And the next version of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, arriving in July, will offer a luscious OLED display, the new 9th-gen H-series Core i9-9880H CPU, and the Nvidia GTX 1650 Max-Q GPU.

Toss in the ThinkPad line’s MIL-STD 810G certification promising superior durability, a gorgeous 4K display with high dynamic range (HDR), dual-storage options, enterprise-oriented service and support, and security options like the ThinkShutter webcam screen; that’s a laptop that’s perfect for the most demanding business buyers.

Read our full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review

HP ZBook Studio

The best work-station class laptop

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Why you should buy this: It crams the power of a desktop workstation into a surprisingly portable package.

Who’s it for: Anyone who needs massive number-crunching and visualization power on the go.

What we thought of the HP ZBook Studio:

If you edit 4K video, design buildings, and use 3D modelling to develop products, then you need more processor and video power than you’ll find in your typical laptop. Chances are, you have a workstation desktop sitting in your office and you need something almost as powerful to take on the road. That’s where portable workstations come in, and the HP ZBook Studio is one of the best.

It all starts with a choice of true workstation-class components, including Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia Quadro graphics. These are optimized for applications like Adobe’s suite of creative apps, Revit, Navisworks, and Enscape for architects, and AutoCAD and Solidworks for engineers. Also, HP offers a 4K DreamColor display that’s incredibly bright at 600 nits and offers 100 percent Adobe RGB coverage and true 10-bit color.

All that is packed into a chassis that’s relatively light at 4.4 pounds and thin at 0.74 inches. That’s plenty of highly portable power, and given its high-end components, the ZBook Studio is reasonably priced as well.

Dell XPS 13

The best for road warriors

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Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s one of the smallest 13-inch laptops you can buy, and one of our favorite all-round laptops.

Who’s it for: Anyone who needs the full power of a modern laptop but doesn’t want to be weighed down.

What we thought of the Dell XPS 13:

Dell’s XPS 13 isn’t exactly a “business-class” laptop, but Dell is no stranger to equipping enterprises. And if you’re looking for the smallest and lightest laptop you can carry around without sacrificing too much power or compatibility, the XPS 13 remains among our top choices.

The 2019 version is nearly perfect, with the last-generation’s poor webcam placement fixed without compromising the XPS 13’s tiny bezels. It’s not the class leader in screen-to-body ratio, but the XPS 13 remains the best if that’s your most important spec.

You can buy the XPS 13 with a fast 8th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU and equip it with a choice of Full HD or 4K displays, and you’ll enjoy the excellent design and build quality and the stellar keyboard and touchpad.

Read our full Dell XPS 13 review

HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5

The best 2-in-1 for business users

best business laptops hp elitebook x360

Why you should buy this: You get all the advantages of a business-class laptop with the flexibility of a pen-enabled 2-in-1.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants to draw and take notes — and relax with a little Netflix on the side.

What we thought of the HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5:

HP makes some of the best 360-degree convertible 2-in-1s you can buy, including our favorite, the Spectre x360 13. But sometimes you need business features that a consumer laptop just can’t provide, such as enhanced security and extra durability.

That’s exactly what the EliteBook x360 1040 G5 provides. You get the same 360-degree hinge that lets you flip the display around into tablet mode — perfect for inking with the included HP Active Pen — but with the added confidence afforded by MIL-STD-810G standards testing. Intel vPro support provides for enterprise remote management and security, as does a self-healing BIOS and HP Sure Run to protect from viruses.

Then, HP’s Sure View privacy screen lets you keep your information safe from onlookers. Combine that with the option of a superbright Full HD display, the most up-to-date components include 8th-gen Intel Core CPUs, and you have a 2-in-1 that your employer won’t object to put in your next budget.

Lenovo ThinkPad T480

The best budget business laptop

Lenovo 14" ThinkPad T480

Why you should buy this: It provides most of what you want from a ThinkPad, except the premium price.

Who’s it for: Anyone who loves the ThinkPad’s design and business chops but has a limited budget.

What we thought of the Lenovo ThinkPad T480:

We named the ThinkPad X1 Extreme as the best overall business laptop, but that’s a pricy option. If your budget comes in around $1,000, though, don’t give up hope; The ThinkPad T480 is an option that gives you most of what you love about a ThinkPad without the high price.

There’s all the usual ThinkPad design quality and aesthetic right down to the black chassis with red accents and the excellent keyboard, touchpad, and red TrackPoint. You’ll also enjoy the fast 8th-generation Intel CPUs, the full-size Ethernet port for quickly plugging into corporate networks, and solid battery life thanks to a whopping 72 watt-hours of capacity.

The ThinkPad T480 is a business-first option that will leave some money left over for other investments. You and your boss will thank us.

Editors’ Recommendations