If your newsfeed is like mine, it’s hard to go a day—or even a few hours—without seeing a story about the retail apocalypse. For a growing number of shoppers, price and convenience no longer equate to brand loyalty. They expect more. They expect an experience. This climate has forced retailers to rethink and reinvent both their in-store experience and digital presence.
In store, retailers are thinking creatively. Apple no longer refers to their physical retail channels as stores, but rather “town centers” with the hopes of replacing the casual “let’s meet at Starbucks” to “let’s meet at Apple.” Other brands have taken note and started to offer more than just a place to transact. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Companies such as Scotts, Home Depot Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., Williams-Sonoma Inc.’s West Elm, and the Sherwin-Williams Co. are hosting classes and online tutorials to teach such basic skills as how to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color.” These types of offerings serve multiple purposes, but primarily they help retailers become resource destinations filled with friendly, informed, trusted advisors who just happen to sell products. Oh so sneaky!
So how can businesses address experiential retailing online? Becoming a destination has been a focus for digital commerce leaders for quite some time. Here are four characteristics of effective digital experience destinations.
Perfectly Placed Pixels—Unique to the Device
Offering the right content based on a shopper’s device is critical when it comes to experiential retail. It’s no longer acceptable to simply take what is offered to desktop browsers and shrink it down for tablet and mobile using responsive design. Brands need to go further.
Many commerce platforms on the market today were developed before the rise of mobile commerce. While they may offer responsive templates, they don’t give marketers enough control over exactly what content should be displayed based on the device. Shoppers typically have different intentions based upon the device they are using, and they need to be spoken to differently. A mobile-first platform should not only offer a responsive site by default, but should also enable marketers to create tailored experiences for any device type using drag and drop tools. Start building for mobile, and watch your conversion and loyalty skyrocket.
Irresistibly Relevant Offers—Even for First Time Shoppers
Personalizing the customer experience is a continual focus for marketers. It’s a tough but essential challenge to solve if you want to become an online destination. Customer preferences are constantly changing. Promotions, products, and pricing are ever evolving. Most brands’ attempts to personalize the experience are based on inaccurate or incomplete views of the customer. Some companies use manual rules which are outdated before they can even be deployed. And some use automated systems plagued by the need to learn about the customer before they can begin to add value.
To present shoppers with the most irresistible offers, understanding what target customers are saying on social media, what (and how much) they are buying (outside of your offerings), and where they are browsing online are all critical components.
However, what good is the data if it’s not actionable and adaptable as shoppers click around a site? Enter the world of artificial intelligence (AI). AI should consider all supervisory policies you define, and should process all of this third-party data, your CRM data, and a shopper’s contextual data (e.g. location, weather) to make sure you are providing relevant offers upon first visit and with each click. Leverage AI throughout your entire site experience to make searching and browsing frictionless for your shoppers and they will come back again and again. Hello, brand loyalty!
Dazzling Digital Assets—Augmented Reality’s Foundation
Content and digital assets are core to immersing a shopper in any type of digital shopping experience. Vivid imagery, engaging video, and other digital assets should be aligned around your goals of inspiring, educating, converting, and servicing your customers. To keep messaging consistent, make sure you have a consistent place to store, manage, and publish all of your brand content.
Too often brand content is fractured and managed across multiple disconnected systems. This causes marketers to spend too much time bouncing between different systems as renditions and versions change across content types. Investing in a system to universally manage your digital assets, and one which is seamlessly integrated to the all points of the customer experience across physical and digital, will save marketers from confusion and duplicate efforts. This will become increasing important as brands push boundaries with content-driven augmented reality experiences.
Seductive Search Results—Bring It All Together
When a shopper browses your site, it’s hard to know exactly what they are looking for. However, search is different. Search is unique because it’s a digital opportunity for shoppers to tell you exactly what they are looking for—take advantage of it. Search result pages should combine everything mentioned above. In addition, take the time to incorporate relevant content—beyond just products—in the results based on keyword.
For example, if a shopper searches for a particular brand, relevant promotional or inspirational content should be easy to incorporate into the experience. This is where it becomes increasingly important to leverage unified tools across commerce, search, content, and experience management. A unified approach ensures faster time to market, greater agility, lower integration costs, and a fully cohesive customer experience.