[intro]We’ve all been there. You’re browsing around online and you come across an ad for something that looks interesting. You click through and find yourself on a page that doesn’t remotely resemble what the ad promised. You click out immediately.[/intro]
Or maybe you visit a store in the local mall and, later at home, jump on the website. But the online experience isn’t the same. It feels less polished, less inviting. Worse, the item that caught your attention in the mall isn’t even available online.
Or perhaps you got as far as putting something into your cart, but the checkout process is overly complicated — and doesn’t seem to work on your mobile device. So, of course, you click out.
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These days, consumers demand a seamless shopping experience across a brand’s entire ecosystem of physical and online touchpoints. They have been habituated to be impatient and unforgiving, especially when it comes to digital commerce. When the online experience doesn’t match what customers expect from the brand, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to convert browsers into buyers.
For brands, this means more than just having an omnichannel strategy. It goes beyond being present in any one channel. That’s because the buyer’s journey is no longer a linear one. It’s likely to hopscotch around, going from digital (seeing a display ad) to physical (going to the mall), back to digital (buying online), for instance. The challenge is to integrate these touch points into a unified shopping experience that also feels personalized and completely on-brand.
“To achieve the seamless holistic brand experience that customers want, retailers need to implement a unified commerce platform,” writes Ken Morris, a principal at Boston Retail Partners, in its recent eCommerce survey. “Most retailers understand this, as 78 percent of the retailers surveyed plan to have a unified commerce platform implemented within five years.”
According to the survey, 43 percent of retailers indicate that creating a consistent brand experience across channels is a top priority.
“A seamless shopping experience across channels is not wishful thinking; it is the expectation of today’s consumer,” the report concluded. “What used to be a linear path to purchase is now an exercise in connect-the-dots for retailers as they try to piece together customer information, browsing history, purchases, real-time inventory visibility, and much more to understand and personalize the experience for each customer.”
Here are some critical ways that your brand can create a seamless eCommerce experience:
Don’t Stray From Your Core Product
Take a close look at what you’re offering in your online store. Do the products reinforce the brand proposition or do they distract from it? Do your categories make sense or do they seem sort of random? Would customers in your physical store recognize what’s being sold online? If your store isn’t converting (but you have a strong brand), it may be time to go back to the basics with your retail strategy. Rather than offering an exhaustive list of categories and subcategories, focus on your core product.
Your defining product is the one that your brand is best known for. It’s easily and quickly recognizable as yours and yours alone. It’s the one that will immediately make sense to your customers when they walk in your store or land on your homepage.
For an excellent example, head over to ModCloth’s website. Recently acquired by Walmart, the once-indie retailer has grown exponentially since its early days, but its core category has always been women’s vintage-style dresses. This flagship product is still front and center on its homepage today. ModCloth is also known for its accessible sizing, so its homepage strategically features plus-size models.
This consistent branding makes the site easily recognizable to its target audience and current customers, and immediately generates feelings of familiarity and trust.
Keep Your Branding Consistent
Good branding is all about consistency. Yet, you’ll find that a lot of brands stray from their core messaging as they move across different channels. This only serves to put question marks in the consumer’s mind.
You need to create a seamless, consistent experience throughout all aspects of your eCommerce strategy. Not only will you be able to better demonstrate your brand’s value, but you also gain trust – an absolute must-have these days for boosting conversions as consumers have become highly skeptical of brands.
Your copywriting – the tone, syntax, diction and length – shouldn’t deviate across your marketing channels and consumer touchpoints. The voice of your copy should match your brand’s personality, and should resonate with your target audience.
The same goes for images. The lighting, background, angles, filters, and editing all add up to an overall aesthetic that should be immediately recognizable to your customers, whether they see the ad in the store or online. Apple is the gold standard in creating a consistent brand experience throughout the customer journey. From its spare, well-designed website to its spare, well-designed physical stores, Apple has a laser focus on its branding. Walking inside one of its stores is like being inside an Apple product. There are no cash registers. Just employees in blue shirts with iPads. It’s clean and well-lit. It’s exactly what you would expect from Apple.
Finally, remain consistent in delivery as well as presentation. You don’t want customers to order something from your eCommerce website, expecting it to look like the product shown online, only to have it be completely different when they open the package. The brand experience must carry through to the last mile.
Be Smart About Blending Your Experiences
One of the most effective ways of creating brand continuity is to marry your eCommerce presence with brick-and-mortar locations. The brand voice and personality should remain the same from billboards and storefront window signage to website landing pages and email blasts. You want to create a clear path to bring your online presence to your offline assets and your retail shoppers to your online presence.
When ModCloth opened its first-ever brick-and-mortar store in Austin, Texas, for example, the brand put a tremendous amount of thought into bringing its digital experience offline. Executives decided to go with a unique idea: The store would not carry inventory like a normal retail outlet. Instead, personal stylists would fit customers in the store and then their purchases would be shipped.
This concept allowed stylists to work closely with customers, who are then armed with fitting data that they can use to personalize their online shopping experience through the eCommerce site or ModCloth’s popular mobile app.
“We found as a digital retailer that the fit shop concept does a bunch of things that are helpful to the online business,” ModCloth CEO Matt Kaness told Refinery29 in an interview. “The first is that stores are a great way to increase brand awareness, get our story out there, bring new people into our community, and acquire new customers, which as a direct-to-consumer digital brand is great… Tying the offline back into the online experience… is the future of digital retail from an omni-channel perspective.”
The majority of shoppers now mix online and offline experiences when they shop. For example, they may go to a Best Buy to browse for products, but use their smartphones to actually purchase from Amazon, where they might get a better bargain. How should brands respond to this “phy-gital” shopping phenomenon? By employing strategies that merge the offline and online experience, including:
- Allowing customers to pick up online orders in any physical store and may the checkout experience super easy and quick. Starbucks recently rolled out mobile ordering, allowing customers to bypass lines to get drinks they’ve preordered online.
- Allowing returns at any location regardless of where the purchase was made, including online.
- Placing digital kiosks to allow customers to browse the full store inventory and/or customize their orders.
- Allow customers to use their online coupons and membership rewards in the physical store.
- Developing in-store apps using iBeacons to track customers as they walk around the store and offer real-time information and discounts.
Whatever strategies you use, the key to a seamless eCommerce experience is to understand your own unique brand attributes and adhere to them relentlessly, online and offline, from the logo to email messages to actual product delivery.