Replicating An In-Store Experience Online

With physical retail now heading into a world of uncertainty as restrictions on trade continue, many will need to adapt to selling online while also trying to stand out in the more popular than ever marketplace. As businesses flock to enhance their online experience, they may look towards traditional brick and mortar tactics and apply them to the digital sphere. While this is an effective starting point, there are a number of key things and options to keep in mind when looking to provide a high-quality customer experience online. Key trends we’ve observed include bringing customer interaction back through video, call and chat, utilising social media live streams, integrating augmented reality and adjusting certain pages to ensure information is spread fast and accurately. To help demonstrate how you can implement some of these, we discuss three key aspects of the physical retail experience you can focus on when considering your online customer experience - firstly, engaging with retail staff, secondly, trying on a garment, and thirdly, just popping into the store to get the most up to date information.

Swedish retailer Tres Bien have been running virtual stores for customers.

ENGAGING WITH RETAIL STAFF

As an overall experience customers will still be yearning for interaction with retail staff in order to answer questions, find out more details about a product and ultimately guide their purchasing decision. Retailers need to think of innovative ways to provide customers with a high level of service while of course being at home, or in the office. One way this has worked well is through virtual stores where customers can reach retail staff via video call to see products, ask specific questions and even have the staff try on items for them. Swedish retailer Tres Bien has successfully implemented this, by having staff on hand for certain hours in an open Zoom meeting to cater to customer questions and even try garments on for customers! This is a great way for customers to receive real-time feedback and encourage their purchase further with sales staff versus waiting on an email or message reply which could take hours to respond to. During these times of social distancing, a group conversation amongst a number of staff and customers provides a great opportunity to deepen the community around a brand.

Similar to this, there has been a large uptake in brands utilising social media video content through Instagram Live, Facebook Live & stories to run Q&A’s with customers, showcase new season items and talk through what’s to come. Being more interactive with your audience through these tools allows customers to be more engaged and interested in your brand, especially while they can’t visit stores physically. Finally, another method to drive interaction with customers is through instant pop-up chat messaging. While you can use this to chat with visitors on the website, we’ve also seen that adding in prompts to call a retail staff member directly to chat has been incredibly useful to close sales via phone and further build rapport with the customer.

Retailers need to think of innovative ways to provide customers with a high level of service while of course being at home, or in the office.

TRYING ON A GARMENT

While it is difficult for customers to feel, try-on and really understand a product online, retailers need to think about how they are going to showcase their product to customers - particularly those that may not use the various chat avenues discussed above. As customers can no longer see products up close and personal, there needs to be more emphasis on the product page itself as this is where customers convert. Online retailers need to move to more in-depth product descriptions (our post on what to think about when writing them may help), by giving value through detailed product descriptions as a retail staff member normally would in-store. Adding sensory details such as how the fabric feels on the skin and what it really looks like up close are important details to consider. Retailers should also look to show images of the product’s fabric and key features (and even how to wear it) to further aid the customer's experience.

Another tool to consider for the future is augmented-reality and blockchain technology. One way this has been used is to provide customers with the ability to see a rendered 3D model of what the product looks like in person. The most commonly used E-Commerce platform Shopify allows for AR integration where this type of feature has been very popular with non-fashion retailers such as homewares, sports and appliances. Fashion brands such as Gucci and Nike have also started using augmented-reality technology to let shoppers virtually “try on” clothing and shoes while the beauty industry is already deep into this space with augmented reality makeup apps. Stay tuned for more on this in an upcoming journal post. While augmented-reality technology may not be feasible for your online store in the immediate future, it is worth considering how you can manually provide a more virtual experience by drawing on AR technology. Look at providing videos of garments on your product pages, using models in a range of sizes, high functioning zoom capabilities, or even product 360 motion graphics like that which can be done locally at Asset Factory.

One other key factor to consider is that during this time while customers cannot visit physical retail stores, returns policies need to be extended and be flexible. Giving customers more time and options when issuing a return will generate more confidence in purchasing and removes that added barrier of doubt that may be in their minds. Retailers need to ensure they’re giving their customers the best possible experience while remaining understanding of the current circumstances and what else is going on within the industry.

JUST POPPING IN?

Finally, it’s extremely important to ensure your audience has up to date information and has it quickly. They need and want to know how you’re operating (and in what capacity), how to reach out to you in regards to questions, and how they can stay engaged with further updates to come. Areas to consider on your online store to present this information holistically are the announcement banner at the top of the page and the homepage - whether that’s in slideshow form or not. These two areas are immediately eye-catching and are often the first thing someone sees upon landing on your website. Use these areas to say if you are shipping orders, expected delays, upcoming product releases or events, and how to reach out to get the best timely response. These can easily be updated in the backend of your E-Commerce platform, so try to keep this as up to date as possible. Other areas that can be easily adjusted to include this type of information are your abandoned cart emails and order confirmation emails. Consider including a phone number for customers to call which allows retail staff to provide information over the phone directly.

As retailers adapt and move deeper into online strategies, the ability to bring some normality through old-school physical retail techniques such as phone and email will continue to be welcomed by customers. If people are visiting your site and are considering making a purchase, being able to communicate effectively with them in either traditional or unique methods will prove to be the difference. Having various communication channels to interact with your brand will keep your audience engaged and interested, updating your products to ensure customers have all the information they need, and spreading correct information quickly are key factors replicating somewhat of an in-store experience online.