2020 was a transformative year for e-commerce. As the pandemic forced many brick-and-mortar stores to close, consumers had to change their shopping habits in an instance. Businesses could no longer provide an in-store experience for customers to physically interact with a product or speak to an employee before completing their purchase. During this period, creating a positive, cost-effective effective customer experience became a priority for brands looking to use online channels to reach shoppers. Since then, many retailers have altered their marketing strategies to shift towards building brand loyalty amid rapidly changing consumer preferences. Even now as brick-and-mortar stores are gradually resuming normal operations, e-commerce sales figures have remained steady, particularly in categories like food and drink, health, and gifts.
A study by Kameleoon has even discovered that time spent engaging with digital channels has increased by 37% during the pandemic. Although this change is not an indicator that in-store shopping is over, it does demonstrate that people are seeking to replicate the in-store experience online. However, as the number of brands selling on digital channels continues to grow, establishing an online presence paired with an advertising strategy is no longer enough to stand out amongst the crowd. 73% of consumers state that a good experience is a key influence on brand loyalty, therefore, brands must consider the possibilities for incorporating the benefits of an in-store experience across digital channels.
Utilising interactive e-commerce to enhance the online experience
As the demand for online commerce has grown in recent years, various technology companies have seized the opportunity to launch in-app features and integrations that integrate with various sales and marketing channels. This has spurred the growth of social commerce and livestream commerce, especially in territories such as Asia, where livestream shopping is a multi-billion-dollar market. Because the format provides a new way of creating more social and interactive experiences, livestream shopping enables brands to market and engage with viewers simultaneously.
Utilising interactive commerce elements in more traditional digital offerings can also provide the opportunity to add other support features such as live customer service chats and calls, product discovery with bot assistance, and providing customers with real-time product training to answer any specific questions about an item. Another solution that has become more commonplace across websites is the use of augmented reality (AR) to enable customers to virtually try on items such as clothing, cosmetics, glasses, and even furniture. As interactive technology continues to develop and grow, virtual reality (VR) is expected to become prominent, with brands like Dior and other luxury retailers already establishing a 3D store.
One of the primary benefits of utilising interactive commerce is to enhance the buyer confidence in the brand and product. While typical shopping experiences will rely on product imagery, text, and video, customers will often have additional questions about the item. This can lead to unconverted journeys, or additional returns when products aren’t what the customer expected. Through interactive commerce, a brand provides customers with an experience that enables them to engage, interact with, learn about, and test products in a new way before purchasing.
Strategies for creating an online in-store experience
Prior to recent technological developments, integrating interactive commerce features required brands to develop bespoke apps or websites, creating a high barrier of entry. Seamlessness is a critical factor for implementing such features successfully, and because of this, many third-party
marketplaces and website development systems are now built to integrate with interactive commerce. TikTok’s recent collaborations with Walmart and Shopify enabling sellers to embed products directly in social media content are some of the more prominent examples of how interactive commerce is rapidly becoming a vital component for brands selling online.
Another popular method for brands seeking to reduce returns and improve sales is to offer free and easy returns to enable customers to try items at home. However, to avoid encouraging returns which can be costly and environmentally damaging, brands can adapt their customer data to help shape buying decisions. For instance, enabling shoppers to connect with a customer service representative when asking about returns can help guide their recommendations and reduce the likelihood of a returned order.
However, the question remains, how can brands create a first-class customer experience that can compete with an in-store visit?
The importance of personalisation cannot be understated, as it allows brands to refine users based on characteristics, interests, specific needs or previous shopping history, and establish journeys that can help shoppers find the exact product they require. The data gathered can be utilised to gain insight and strategically segment new and existing customers, grouping them based on factors such as order number or frequency, average order value, acquisition cost, and more. Once segmented, brands can tailor content and messaging to suit the preferences of shoppers. Additional triggers can also be added to connect with live messaging apps to encourage new purchases through live support and discounts.
2. Allow customers to test products
Prior to the pandemic, one of the primary advantages of in-store shopping was the opportunity to view, touch, and engage with your product before deciding to purchase. Features such as augmented reality are ideal for providing an alternative for trying products. It may not be always perfect, but it does help to build customer confidence in products and is a significant step in the right direction for personalised e-commerce. For brands seeking to replicate the in-store testing experience, livestream selling can be ideal for showing products in use alongside tutorials and links to purchase.
3. Offer live help
Customers shopping in-store can easily access a shop assistant to inquire about sizing, colour, or whether an item will be back in stock. That isn’t always the case online, but there is an opportunity for brands to engage with shoppers during their online journey, especially on their own channels.
Enabling live chat options on channels to encourage customers to interact with customer service can help to establish a fast, responsive service that remains on-brand. Providing customers with immediate answers and help during various touchpoints will help build brand loyalty while retaining a consistent tone of voice. The importance of establishing an effective client communication process should not be undervalued, as 93% of consumers are more likely to become repeat customers at brands with excellent customer service.
How interactive commerce is implemented into the customer journey can be entirely custom to each brand, and retailers should use the opportunity to adapt their offerings. A clothing retailer may need to invest in creating a cost-effective, reliable customer service that can handle order inquiries, whereas companies seeking to focus on one-to-one sales can offer options such as digital tastings and product training to entice new customers. Don’t be afraid to tweak and experiment with different features to see what works best for your brand.
As interactive commerce continues to grow and develop, expect more features and tools to become available to support new long-term retail strategies that aim to build on customers’ desire for a highly personalised and intuitive shopping experience. Retailers that can establish more interactive elements within their e-commerce will have more chance of capturing the user’s attention amongst a growing sea of competitors.
A unified approach to online and offline
For brands seeking to engage with modern digital customers, there is a growing shift towards better connection with shoppers through a unified approach to online and offline commerce. Through creating multiple touchpoints that are in sync, elements of the in-store experience can be seamlessly integrated to influence customer decisions.
Instead of replicating the in-store experience entirely, new software tools are beneficial for adding interactivity to help serve excellent experiences across all channels and touchpoints. Brands must now seek to offer an experience that’s not only convenient but engages customers in new, value-added ways. This can lead to more repeat purchases and drive long-term revenue growth for the business. Furthermore, by making the in-store experience to digital channels, brands are no longer reliant on brick-and-mortar stores being open to speak, interact and engage with customers.