Opinion: Retail must enrich the online experience with fulfillment-focused tactics
There is still a role for stores as they reopen, but apparel and beauty retailers should stop seeing them as the primary point of engagement. Instead, they should focus on the online experience, and not see e-commerce simply as a means of moving product.
Fulfillment-focused digital tactics lag behind face-to-face interactions in driving customer engagement—failing to spark inspiration, solve one-off problems or help shoppers find what they’re looking for. Fifty percent of consumers we surveyed said the most frustrating parts of lockdown shopping are customer-assistance related issues.
In a world where time spent browsing and buying is increasingly online, the path from discovery to purchase is not straightforward. Consumers are increasingly bearing the burden of connecting various sources of inspiration with the right brand, retailer, season and style. And they don’t always get it right: Consumers return 25 percent of items purchased online, compared to 9 percent of what they buy in a store. Online returns are expensive, costing businesses as much as $10 per transaction.
A few forward-thinking companies are already using visual search technology to streamline the online discovery process and make common images shoppable.
Uniqlo’s app allows users to upload photos to receive style recommendations based on an analysis of what they already wear.
Stitch Fix generates recommendations by engaging customers in a game called Style Shuffle, in which customers swipe right for items they like. The company has found that the more data it collects on customer’s preferences, the higher its customer satisfaction scores and revenue.
The Yes app also has consumers take a style quiz to sort among options. The app's algorithm then analyzes the data to curate a feed of styles and brand preferences for each individual.
In beauty retailing—where customers are concerned about hygiene and contamination of in-store samples—brands have deployed technology ranging from augmented reality to live virtual consultations.
Benefit Cosmetics worked with beauty technology company Perfect for an app feature that allows mobile users to virtually try on eyebrow makeup using AR.
Some companies are testing virtual reality platforms to recreate the in-store environment, almost like a video game. Ulta Beauty has partnered with VR company Obsess, whose technology lets customers pick up and purchase items as they would in a store. Obsess claims that VR stores have a 70 percent higher conversion rate than traditional grid e-commerce stores.
Even Facebook is getting into the game by launching what it’s calling a “universal product recognition model” that uses artificial intelligence to identify all types of consumer products, which could lead to a future where products in every image on a site can be identified and purchased.
More than ever, post-pandemic consumers will be drawn to interactive, multiplatform experiences that drive engagement—not just transactions. They will look to online places where they can spend time and money. What can retailers do to spark discovery and inspiration?
Know your consumers. Figure out who they are, what inspires them and how they connect the dots from inspiration through to purchase.
Know the store plays a supporting role for a broader customer experience and value proposition, rather than as the primary point of engagement.
Leverage emerging technologies to support the journey and create a seamless process through partnership and experimentation.
Give customers a platform to inspire others—even if on existing social media channels—then use your influence to celebrate them.
For apparel and beauty retailers, discovery, inspiration and engagement have always lived in stores. The shift to digital engagement has been a long time in the making and the realities of lockdown has just accelerated it. As tempting as it is to go back to the old way of doing business now that stores are reopening, it’s time for retailers to fully embrace the digital-first world.
Retail Next: Ad Age gets ready for its biggest retail event of the summer, which is set to stream online July 8, with a day of shop talk led by senior retail reporter Adrianne Pasquarelli.