The New Normal – Four Things Retailers Should Consider When Rethinking Their Digital Shopper Experiences

Retail is changed forever. The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has left an indelible mark on the industry and we have not yet begun to see its full impact. But while change has been abrupt and dramatic, we are experiencing a time of digital acceleration versus that of disruption. What would have taken years to implement is now being put in place over the course of just a few weeks.  

There are many brands and retailers scrambling to simply keep their businesses afloat, but there are others that have been able to think fast and pivot quickly. Many have turned their attention and resources to improving their digital shopper experiences online, on mobile, and in social media as a way to focus on what is possible, rather than remain frozen contemplating what has happened. 

In doing this, retailers are keenly focused on which efforts, technology, and partners show the highest rates of ROI and customer engagement. For example, in March, Pinterest experienced record highs in traffic, interactions, and shopping as consumers seek inspiration and are provided with a clear path to purchase.

Create surprise and delight with visual content

One of the biggest hurdles e-commerce must overcome is the lack of a sensory experience – that moment of surprise and delight shoppers have when entering the store of their favorite brand. E-commerce now has to evolve past task-oriented shopping and create a more inspiring and captivating experience. This places an even greater onus on creating impactful and actionable visual content, at scale.

Retailers have long understood the essential need for content – catalogs, mailers, advertising, online and social media. They also understand the challenges of creating outstanding content – time, money and resources. The cost of elaborate photo shoots on location, with stylists, hair/makeup, models, and props can soar into the tens or hundreds of thousands. On the budget side of creating visual content are the basic product shots (maybe or maybe not on models) or lay downs (flat lays). We are now in a world where model-centric photoshoots are simply not possible and it will be a while before they are booked again.  

Dissolve the red tape of process

Beyond the expense lies resources. Who internally is going to own generating this content, who needs to use it, for what, and who has a say in what is actually created? This can be split across five or more teams internally and the entire process is bogged down in the time it takes to approve what is considered “on-brand.” Today, retailers don’t have the time to get stuck in a cumbersome process – everything is changing so rapidly, they need to streamline and get creative about how to use what they have. A current example is the unexpected need for retailers to abandon plans (and marketing assets) tied to Easter and instead showcase products that suit a home-bound customer. 

Test new ideas and tap into technologies

Savvy brands are using this time to get creative and test out new things. For instance, eyewear brand Quay Australia was forced to redirect its internal teams to overcome the closure of two of its three major distribution channels – retail store and wholesale. With a shift in focus onto its direct-to-consumer digital channels, the company is now trying new ideas and connecting with its customer base to maintain and strengthen loyalty in ways they never would have thought, including hosting virtual events and online cocktail parties, doing more 1:1 video communications with customers, and implementing new virtual try-on tools. 

Other brands are looking at ways to repurpose existing content from product shoots to generate style and outfit recommendations with Stylitics. Many of our customers saw such high ROI, they boosted their programs and extended beyond the website into other digital channels including mobile apps, social media, ad retargeting, and email.

Work with what you have

Recently, we helped several retailers quickly pivot (in one or two days) from seasonal galleries and content to more cozy at-home looks and bundles across their site and in email all using existing inventory. We gave them a way to change the storytelling to focus on how they can support the new needs of the customer, without having to change the inventory.

We are also responding to the immediate needs and requests of our customers by rolling out a new “Send the Look” program that enables remote store associates to generate shoppable lookbooks for customers in minutes, with hand-picked style recommendations. Giving store associates the tools and content to connect with customers in a personalized way that sparks inspiration and excitement, goes a long way in customer retention, especially now.

As we move into an era of more considered purchasing, it becomes critically important to focus on enhancing the online shopping experience with visual inspiration. Consumers have shifted to online shopping and are learning new behaviors and rituals that will extend well into the future. To service these needs, brands and retailers need to throw out the old playbooks and look to see how they can adapt their products and distribution models to meet altered customer demand in the face of what is, at least for now, the new normal.

Photo credit: photo by Sincerely Media