The web is a digital shop window with unlimited space for retailers to showcase what they can offer to the consumer. But it’s become so much more than just another platform to sell through, argues David Brint, CEO of imaging and workflow specialist SpinMe. So why are so many retailers still missing the point of online within the multichannel microcosm?
How quickly things can change in the world of retail. Just a few years ago, it looked like digital was destined to replace bricks and mortar shopping, but recent research has shown that this is simply not the case. While the IMRG’s figures regularly show steady online growth – not surprising as the industry still has so much to accomplish – according to a ShopperTrak study, more than a third of UK consumers (38%) still shop in-store, while 27% would like to see sales staff equipped with tablet devices to bring digital into the store through access to online reviews and stock checks.
Connected customers want to move seamlessly between online and in-store. Glance through the trade press any week and you will see regular examples of high profile retailers combining both digital and physical platforms successfully. Mothercare is just one example, recently reporting that over 40% of its online sales are generated by iPads instore, while a quarter of orders are picked up instore.
It’s now abundantly clear that a mix of several platforms is the way forward. Today’s shopper wants the best of all possible worlds, with a physical point-of-contact providing vital elements of confidence and personalisation. People want to know that should anything go wrong during the shopping process, they will have a real-life ‘door to knock on’, while the online contingent is becoming increasingly useful as a discovery tool where they can browse merchandise and compare prices, as well as immersing themselves in visual and editorial content from a brand.
Presenting a unified brand identity across every platform is the golden rule of multichannel retail. So then why are there still so many retailers doing themselves a disservice by providing an online experience that fails to reflect their overall brand image?
Online selling is about so much more than just instant revenue – a website can act as a gallery to showcase beautiful products, a venue for aggregating unique lifestyle content to keep customers coming back or it can even flourish into a vibrant community of brand enthusiasts via forums and users sharing original content through social media. Crucially, a website can be a digital shop window – a powerful vehicle for conveying a brand’s essence online, encouraging customers to engage with it in many different ways. However, it seems like a large number of retailers missed the memo, and continue to view their websites simply as a transactional means to an end. This is a mistake.
The luxury sector is one area of retail where online has yet to catch up with the instore experience; it’s not uncommon to see heritage brands with opulent instore experiences, but slightly underwhelming websites. For instance, Liberty, while providing a perfectly pleasant online experience overall, just doesn’t feel like it does justice to the spectacle of the iconic London store. Even the Liberty Life section, which houses interviews, beauty tips and behind-the-scenes looks at new collections, has a lot more in common with a garden-variety lifestyle blog than the digital incarnation of one of the world’s most famous luxury brands.
On the other hand, Waitrose.com is a great example of a retail website that reflects the upmarket vibe of the brand’s physical stores. Although groceries can be ordered for delivery, the key element of the Waitrose online offering is not the transaction itself, but instead maintaining and building on the existing relationships the brand has with its customer base. This is achieved here by adding value by serving up unique, useful content like Waitrose TV, a selection of food and lifestyle-related video clips featuring celebrity chefs and food bloggers, created especially for online visitors. High production values and an attention to detail regarding the look and feel of this content upholds that quintessentially ‘Waitrose’ message throughout the site.
Burberry, consistently lauded as being at the forefront of digital, is one of a just a handful of luxury brands that has truly embraced the online world and planted it firmly at the centre of its overall brand identity – not bad for an old-timer. Burberry is certainly no slouch when it comes to reflecting the luxury of its in-store experience via its website; a combination of high-quality photography, a sleek and intuitive user experience and a host of innovative features to bridge the gap between online and offline such as the ability to view a product from every angle, essentially allowing customers to ‘pick it up’, means that the site is a pleasure to spend time on. Most importantly, the brand has invested a huge amount of effort into bringing its iconic 150+ year heritage to the forefront of its site with unique digital content straddling the worlds of history, fashion and even music, for customers to enjoy.
Of course, not every brand has Burberry’s distinctive clout – but smaller, independent retailers can take a leaf out of its book when it comes to having an impeccably dressed digital shop window. If you’re an indie fashion boutique in Chelsea with a loyal local customer base, it’s very likely that what attracted those customers in the first place was your stylish window display, attentive and knowledgeable sales assistants or simply the tailoring of your fantastic one-off dresses. In cases like this, it’s all the more important that the website reflects this identity as closely as possible, because this is what sets you apart from all the other boutiques.
Many smaller retailers misinterpret limited stock availability as being a barrier to putting stand-out pieces on their websites, but this shouldn’t deter them from doing so – after all, real-life shop windows often feature striking ‘not for sale’ items with the sole intention of catching the eye of the passer-by and tempting them inside. Exclusivity and even scarcity can be hugely appealing, so even if there’s only one size or colour of a particular item left, it could be what ultimately motivates a customer to make a visit to your physical store for more unique finds. With fashion in particular, the lure of ‘one-of-a-kind’ pieces builds aspiration and intrigue, and is a great way to show people what a brand is truly about.
It’s time to understand that the zeitgeist has changed dramatically since a website revolved around baskets and checkouts. Today, dressing a digital shop window is a retailer’s chance to curate and craft an authentic representation of what its brand stands for, and to connect with current and prospective customers in a more meaningful way than ever before.