Advertising. Social media. Packaging. Sponsorships. Brick-and-mortar stores. The list goes on.
These and other channels contribute to the retail brand experience. Entire websites and media outlets are dedicated to some of these channels — but not many are dedicated to how the online storefront fits into the equation.
Your eCommerce site is one of the most important touchpoints customers have with your brand, and can make or break their opinions of it.
Here, we examine six elements of your site and how they impact that experience.
1. The Balance Between Shopping and Buying
Understanding the difference between shopping and buying is an important part of how your website fits into the bigger picture. What seems like a subtle difference is important, retail strategist Steve Dennis argues.
“Buying is mostly transactional. More mission than journey. More search than discovery,” he says. Those in buying mode care primarily about speed, convenience and assortment that is easy to navigate.
On the other hand, shopping is far more experiential. It takes more time, and the value is in exploring, discovering and finding just the right item. For shoppers, it’s more about being able to try something on, touch and feel the product, or ask questions.
According to Dennis, eCommerce is more easily optimized for buying, which is where Amazon has greater market share. Frankly, Amazon doesn’t have the most shopper-friendly user experience — but that isn’t what the company is built on.
It’s important to identify where your brand proposition fits into this puzzle before answering the same question for your site. Is your brand differentiated by a variety of unique, high-end products? If so, the shopper experience may be more important. Conversely, your target audience may come to you for cost savings when they know what they are looking for.
2. Overall User Experience
Focusing your eCommerce site accordingly can make a difference. Kaleigh Moore at HubSpot gives the example of Marucci Sports, which redesigned its site to be story-centric and highlight relationships with players. By making this change and a more mobile-friendly site, the brand increased mobile conversions by 50 percent.
Your site is an extension of your brand and products, so it’s important to consider what that means in the context of your user experience. If your product quality and materials are a differentiator, perhaps your audience would value a 360-degree photo functionality. If your price point is the key driver, they may just need a price comparison tool.
This is particularly important today, when everyone reminds us that retailers are all competing with Amazon.
“Smaller retailers might not be able to offer the lowest price or free shipping, but those aren’t the only things shoppers seek,” says Portas Agency Founder Mary Portas. “Brands are using shops as spaces to immerse us in their worlds. Within four walls they teach us, inspire us, and encourage us to try new things. We go to them not just to ‘shop,’ but for entertainment, education and connection.”
This is true for the online experience, as well.
3. Consistent Visuals
Your eCommerce site is also a visual extension of your brand. Create a seamless eCommerce experience by keeping your brand consistent and marrying your online and physical store visuals.
That’s why Apple.com is the best brand-oriented eCommerce site, according to DesignRush Founder Gabriel Shaoolian. The website’s streamlined design and sleek aesthetic drive home the Apple brand ideals, which solidifies consumer loyalty.
However, branding isn’t just about “a fancy logo or colors,” says 2X eCommerce founder Kunle Campbell. “It’s about what people think after seeing or interacting with your brand.”
A customer sees a social media promotion from a sports store for 20 percent off a specific brand. The color she wants is sold out online, but she sees on the website that they are available at her local shopping center. She mentions the discount when checking out in the store, and the assistant looks up the offer and applies it.
Retail Customer Experience uses that example to demonstrate why consistency across channels is so important — beyond just brand visuals. The shopper doesn’t see the lines between the various elements of the brand experience. End-to-end data integrated from the supply chain to the shopping experience can make this happen and help you serve your customers better.
Tracey Wallace at BigCommerce says analytics like abandoned-cart and purchase-funnel data can help you understand your customer and their relationship with your brand or product. She recommends looking even deeper into your customer data to understand their behavior and personalize their experiences.
Retailers like Walmart are stepping up their personalization, according to Anne D’Innocenzio, who covers retail for the Associated Press. The company site now highlights top-selling items nearby and makes it easier to buy items you purchased before.
D’Innocenzio spoke with Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali from Forrester Research and the Retail Influencer Network about the changes. “There are different spins of personalization,” Mulpuru-Kodali says. “The challenge for retail is to figure out what, based on all the data, is actually useful.”
Amazon’s impact on the industry may be overdramatized, but the company is quite likely to lead the way when it comes to data.
Jason Del Rey at Recode says that Amazon’s private-label approach “has the potential to be disruptive because of how much data it can easily analyze about competitor brands that sell on its site – which products and price points are selling, and why – after mining customer reviews.”
5. What You Say …
Your eCommerce site also offers a valuable opportunity to convey your brand value proposition and personality.
“The best eCommerce websites don’t just tell you about their product and how it can benefit you,” says ShipStation. “They tell you why the brand is working so hard to deliver a product that solves a problem. And more importantly, why it matters.”
What is your mission? What problem do you solve? What makes your brand unique? Having an “about” or “mission” section of your site is an obvious way to convey your brand message.
Content marketing can also be a key component of your eCommerce site. REI is a great example of a brand that owns the outdoors industry space through content. The blog, adventure trips and other content are hosted on the digital storefront and thus drive traffic to the site — not to mention sales.
6. … and How You Say It
The tone you use in your product copy, in your customer service conversations and throughout your site is impactful as well. Identifying the right tone of voice ensures your brand is consistent and distinct, which helps your audience identify your brand and connect with what it stands for.
A Better Lemonade Stand has a helpful eCommerce Branding Guide that includes insight to help you identify your tone of voice.
“Outline the type of acceptable language that will be used,” founder Richard Lazazzera writes. “Should the tone be formal, or more conversational? You might include particular words and phrases that should always appear, or which words should be avoided.”
Lazazzera offers the example of how your emails should start (hi, hello or hey) and how they should end (cheers, thanks, best), but whatever tone you choose applies to everything from your headlines to product descriptions and blog posts.
Another way to tell your story is to let your customers do the talking, and not just through online reviews. Creating an online community is an opportunity for growth, says retail expert Dana Telsey, who cites Gap and Urban Outfitters as retailers managing their online businesses well.
Companies such as Casper also incorporate user-generated content on their eCommerce sites. That can be powerful. “As people feel part of something, they will be naturally incentivized to share their own content and imagery that focuses upon your products and your brand,” says eCommerce consultant Ian Rhodes. “These strategies work because they offer openness and transparency. When you make great products, people take ownership and pride from that ownership.”
Retailers can also learn a lot from how Alibaba treats eCommerce as entertainment with their Singles Day shopping festival, says Portas. By keeping it fresh and trying new things, retailers can merge online and offline worlds into a truly great brand experience.
Images by: andreypopov/©123RF Stock Photo, dedivan1923/©123RF Stock Photo, David Laws