Forced closures aside, there’s a lot to love about the traditional retail model. Some products demand to be touched or tried on, for instance. There’s no waiting for your purchases to arrive, either. Assistance is always at hand and a fun and personalized shopping experience will often turn into a great day out with friends.
As brilliant as eCommerce is, particularly right now, many of the best things about traditional retail don’t translate well online. In fact, it’s all too easy for online shopping to feel cold and transactional compared to the social and personable experience of visiting a store in-person.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five strategies DTC brands can use to mimic traditional retail’s best aspects and create a far more personable and pleasurable shopping experience.
Personalize the User Experience
One of the best things about shopping at a local brick and mortar store is the owner getting to know your taste and style. It’s not uncommon for many store owners to start recommending products after just a few visits.
Giles Thomas, the Founder of AcquireConvert, says such attentive shopping assistance is hard to recreate online unless you own a very small store and can interact with consumers personally. That means the vast majority of transactions are completed without any kind of communication between the owner and customer. He says the solution is to use AI-powered personalization software to track shopper behavior and customize your store to their tastes.
When you personalize your eCommerce store, you effectively create a unique experience for consumers in real time, says the team at The Good. “Every customer sees a slightly different version of your website, with that real-time experience being shaped and defined by the particular audience segment the shopper falls into.”
Recreating one of the best parts of the traditional retail experience isn’t the only benefit of adding personalization technology to your eCommerce store. There are several other benefits to personalization, writes Animalz’s Drew Housman, some of which include:
- Improved customer loyalty. The more personalized the shopping experience, the more consumers will want to buy from you.
- Increased time on site. Relevant content makes consumers stay longer on your site.
- Improved CTA conversion rates. Consumers are much more likely to take action on a personalized offer.
- Targeted product recommendations. The more relevant the products you show to consumers, the better their shopping experience.
Add Social Proof to Your Store
If there’s one element of traditional retail that the vast majority of eCommerce stores have yet to replicate, it’s trying products on before you buy. Yes, some brands like eyewear reseller Warby Parker let you virtually try products on before purchasing, but almost every other brand forces you to pay in advance and return what you don’t like.
Even if brands are never truly able to replicate this aspect of the in-person shopping experience, they can get pretty close with social proof. Detailing the experience of someone who has already bought that product is “the next best thing”, says eCommerce writer Kaleigh Moore. “For example, think about how videos can add context to the online shopping experience,” she writes. “When you see a product in-use by a trusted source, it’s almost like they’re re-creating that in-person experience for you.”
According to Paul Schmidt, Senior Marketing Strategist at SmartBug Media, user-generated content is one of the best forms of social proof. “Both onsite and offsite reviews, testimonials, and images of your customers using your products are marketing gold for business growth.” That said, it can be tricky to encourage user-generated content or get permission to incorporate online reviews and social posts into your store.
Online referrals can also be incredibly potent at driving conversions, says eCommerce writer Melinda Curle. “Happy customers can get the word out about your brand much faster and better than any means of advertising,” she writes. “Referral marketing generates 3-5x higher conversion rates than any other channel.”
Improve the Online Shopping Experience
If you’re struggling to recreate some aspects of in-person shopping, it could be that your current online shopping experience isn’t delivering in the way it should. Improving the way consumers browse, buy and receive products could be all you need to do.
Excellent product photos can improve the user experience and go some way to recreate the in-person shopping experience. You’ll need these even if your product is well-known or ubiquitous because they provide reassurance to shoppers that the item they receive will match their expectations.
You don’t have to rely only on customers to share photos and videos of your products, says Michael Ugino, the Co-Founder of Sellbrite and a Director of Product Marketing at GoDaddy. Create branded portfolios or lookbooks, instead. “Lookbooks let you create branded videos or images that showcase your products,” he writes. “You can take advantage of the traffic this type of content draws by including links to make the videos more interactive and engaging.”
Another aspect of in-person shopping that most eCommerce stores fail to fulfill is the instant gratification of receiving your products instantly. Offering in-store collection is one solution, but so is improving your delivery time.
When you offer fast, free shopping, you fulfill the customer’s need for instant gratification, writes Rachel Go at Paperform. You also increase trust, help the consumer to reduce risk and deliver more value to consumers.
When you do send products, you can replace the in-store shop assistant’s “have a nice day” with your own well wishes. “Discount coupons tell customers you appreciate their business, which then makes them want to keep coming back,” says SellUp founder Allan Levy. You can also add samples or even snacks as an added bonus.
Improve Customer Support
If you have a question when shopping in a brick and mortar store, you can be pretty certain a shopping assistant will be close to hand. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case when shopping online. Some stores rely on email-based customer service. Many don’t even have a telephone helpline. Still, delivering in-store levels of customer service online isn’t impossible.
Great customer service is just as important for eCommerce stores as it is for brick and mortars, writes Maddy Osman at marketing platform Pixlee. Live chat guarantees that consumers can get quick answers to any questions they may have — as long as a person is at the other end and not AI.
Digital marketing consultant Aalap Shah says real-time chat is one of his top tips for improving the experience for online shoppers. The founder of 1o8 explains that his agency added live chat to the stores of several eCommerce clients who have in turn experienced increased conversions due to better communication between the store and their customers.
Live text-only chat often won’t be enough on its own, however, particularly if your customer base spans generations or if the product you sell is typically purchased in stores. Having multiple contact methods, like video and telephone will cater to a range of demographics, says Priya Iyer, CEO at live customer engagement platform Vee24. According to the company’s proprietary data, real-time multichannel communication can also lead to a 35% increase in average order value and a 10x increase in conversion rates.
Don’t forget about the good old phone line, either. In an industry where speed and efficiency are critical, offering a direct line to your customer service team can be a game-changer, writes HubSpot’s Clint Fontanella. “Even if you don’t have call center software or a designated phone team, having an immediate way of creating a live interaction can dramatically improve the customer experience.”
Develop a Hybrid Model
Online shopping isn’t killing off traditional retail as much as it is changing it. In fact, some of the largest and best-known DTC brands have opened physical retail stores in order to make the most of the benefits of in-person shopping.
Digitally native brands use stores much differently to their traditional counterparts, writes Retail Dive Editor Cara Salpini. Specifically, they are focused on delivering an amazing customer experience. Some brands use stores to educate consumers about their products, others use them to offer one-on-one service, while still others as a marketing tool to build stronger relationships with shoppers.
These stores are built for showcasing products, not storing them or selling them, says the team at MomentFeed. “This keeps overhead costs like warehousing low, while still providing customers a great shopping experience.” It also helps to overcome the lack of tactile interaction inherent with online brands.
If you’re taking this approach it’s important not to stray too far from your DTC roots. “One of the key reasons Everlane, Warby Parker, and Chubbys’ stores perform so well is because they optimize for the customer,” explains Skubana Co-Founder and CEO Chad Rubin. The sales funnel that works well online is altered only very slightly for their brick and mortar stores. The shopping experience remains first-class and consumers are driven to stores with events and incentives.
Don’t expect another stream of revenue, however. Rather, brands should expect an increase in online orders more than anything else. “It has to be acknowledged that many customers are going into stores but end up purchasing online,” says Matt Alexander, Co-Founder and CEO at Neighborhood Goods. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and the burden falls on retailers to build a store that exists for more than just the transactional piece of the relationship. It’s almost like an insightful billboard.”
Most DTC brands won’t have the need or resources to open up physical stores any time soon, but that doesn’t mean they can’t go some way to recreating the in-person retail experience online.