Why aren’t retail brands replicating their in-store experience online?

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Brand experience is a real strength of the High Street, yet too many retailers are failing to replicate that strength online. It’s something that frustrates Stickyeyes’ Creative Director, Chris Lines.

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For as much as the economic downturn has battered the High Street over the past five years, claiming some high-profile casualties along the way, High Street shopping still holds huge appeal.

Experience is everything in the world of retail. Today’s High Streets and shopping malls are not merely places where goods are sold, they’re leisure destinations in their own right; providing retail therapy for those in need of it.

The High Street is, for many, the most tangible exposure they have to a brands. How they build their understanding of what a brand stands for. Whether a retailer is synonymous with luxury and quality, or for cheap and convenient, how that brand delivers that experience will ultimately dictate whether it thrives, survives or dies.

But whilst retailers are delivering an effective and polished brand experience offline, too many are failing to replicate that online – and there is no good reason for it. Poor content, a lack of targeting, minimal product advice and clunky navigation are all letting brands down and costing them vital customers.

Retailers are letting consumers fend for themselves

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There are elements of the brand experience that most retailers are particularly known for. For some, it’s the store’s layout and how the products are arranged. For others, it’s the trustworthiness and the quality of the in-store advice, whilst for some, it’s simply goods sold cheaply. Whatever those brand traits are, consumers subconsciously expect these elements of the brand experience when they go online. If brands aren’t delivering on those expectations, they risk losing out.

So where are retailers struggling in this regard?

Delivery and service

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How a product is handed to a customer is an important part of the brand experience. Stores take great care in packaging purchases, both from a practical and aesthetic perspective. This is particularly important for luxury or designer products, where image is just as critical as the product itself.

Consumers expect this same level of care whilst online. Consumers respond negatively to bent or tatty cardboard boxes, courier branded jiffy bags, and they certainly don’t consider the leaving of a package with the neighbour or in the wheelie bin to be a caring and considered transfer of ownership.

Unintuitive navigation

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Many retailers lay their stores, both online and offline, out in what seems a very logical fashion. Products are grouped into respective categories, each aimed at a particular audience of consumer need.

But what if your consumer doesn’t actually know what their need is? What if they have a problem, but no solution?

Navigation is more than merely places to hang products, it is a way of directing users to the right product for their needs. Customers may have one product in mind, unaware that there are other products, better suited to their needs.

In a physical store, this problem is overcome by in-store staff, but online, retailers are leaving customers to fend for themselves. This results in missed opportunities, high return rates and dissatisfied customers.

Poor content

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Content is a vital element in a brand’s digital armoury, because it allows them to overcome that lack of interaction that, in a store environment, would come from the staff advisors. Content is a way to bring a brand story to life, to really address customers’ challenges and convince them that the product in stock will solve their problem.

But too many brands are failing to grasp this opportunity, creating disconnect between where consumers research and there they purchase. Poor product copy is a real barrier to sales and can do little for on-page engagement, whilst poor content throughout the rest of the buying process leaves brands fighting for space in the market.

The Stickyeyes Consumer Electronics Retail Report 2013 noted that in the consumer electronics sector, retailers were losing valuable customer interactions to review sites and affiliates. This represented a significant level of highly engaged users that were being diverted away from the most visible retailers in that sector. This trend is mirrored across most competitive sectors.

Consistency of brand is key

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Customers buy more than just a product; they’re buying whatever it is that makes a brand different. The key is to make sure this reputation translates online.

If a brand stands for speed and convenience, they need to make sure that the customer can get their goods quickly. Perhaps offering same day – or better yet, next hour delivery.

If the brand stands for quality, are they telling the story behind the product, explaining why the shirt they sell costs £200, rather £20?

It is a brand’s values that convinces people to camp out overnight for an expensive computer, or to buy a pair of shoes that supports a charity, or even an ethically sourced cup of coffee.

Failing to portray this difference threatens a brand with the risk of being “just like everyone else”. This has contributed to the rise of ‘showroomers’ (people who look at a product in store before buying online). Online will always win the price war, so funnelling shoppers from The High Street to the online proposition is key.

Online retailers are taking on bricks & mortar stores on their own turf

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High Street brands are now losing their big advantages – convenience, immediacy, brand presence and service – to pure-play digital retailers.

Delivery options like Amazon lockers are addressing one of the key failings of online shopping – waiting for a delivery. We are now seeing pure play retailers embrace one of the key advantages that previously held by High Street retailers, physical pickup at ‘click and collect’ locations.

When it comes to content, pure plays are winning the battle. In an attempt to claw back vital traffic from review sites and aggregators, appliance retailer AO.com created their own review sites to capture customers in the research phase – preventing them from being captured elsewhere. AO.com is growing at a rate of 32% annually and has one million more Facebook fans than its High Street rival, Currys PC World.

So what do we take away?

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Retailers fastidiously perfect every detail of their experience in store, yet they neglect those very same details when they transport the experience to the customer’s fingertips.

Retailers have to start looking at their online experience in the same way that the look at their offline one, ensuring that every single customer touch-point is as clean, efficient and as reflective of the brand as it can possibly be. One slip-up can completely taint that experience and leave your customers disappointed.

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