In the past decade, brick-and-mortar retailers have been forced to reckon with the rise of e-commerce, finally combating showrooming in recent years with price-matching schemes. They've also learned to leverage their own advantages — especially the ability of shoppers to see and touch the merchandise — by eliminating channels and offering delivery and pickup services of many kinds.
Even once adamantly pure-play retailers like Warby Parker have realized that there’s an advantage to having physical stores, which provide marketing and data-collection opportunities that can’t be found online.
But e-commerce retailers may be blithely unaware of some more subtle advantages that brick-and-mortar retailers enjoy. It’s related to that “touch and feel,” but also has to do with emotional reactions we humans have in a physical environment, says web psychologist Liraz Margalit of digital “customer experience” solutions startup Clicktale. The good news, says Margalit, is there are ways e-retailers can also "second that emotion."
“The online store needs to provide us with the same kind of experience, to create these feelings we have in physical stores,” Margalit told Retail Dive. “When you go to buy something, it’s not always a rational decision. It’s an emotional one. But sitting at our screens is a more ‘rational’ environment than being in a store.”
Two kinds of shoppers
The two kinds of shoppers — goal-oriented ones and browsing ones — won’t be news to retail marketers. But many, if not most, retail websites are failing both, Margalit says.
Many goal-oriented shoppers need extremely easy search and find capabilities and are too often stymied by clumsy, slow, or incomplete search results on retailers’ own sites.
“Don’t let your visitors struggle,” Margalit warns. “It’s like being in a department store when you can’t find the clerk.”
And then there are those shoppers who open their screens to meander around the web, perhaps finding something, but perhaps not. Most retail websites are failing to capture their attention because they’re not tapping into the kinds of variables — colors, categorization, content — that keep those shoppers at their website or entice them to a sale.
Be creative...but have boundaries
Margalit notes that many retailers get so creative with their websites that they become difficult to navigate. That’s tripping up those goal-oriented shoppers without necessarily capturing the wandering, emotional ones.
All the creativity that goes into making a website a pleasurable experience for the browsing customer must work within a strict easy-to-navigate experience for the no-nonsense one.
“The more creative and outstanding you are, the more likely you may confuse your visitors,” Margalit says. “There are designers working on how to be creative and how to stand out instead of thinking of the buyer, and the site becomes too complicated to find what you want. Keep your visitors free of difficulties, then you they can be free to enjoy your website. Within certain boundaries, we can be creative.”
Create a fantasy for the online customer
Clicktale susses out when visitors hesitate, give up, or, conversely, move smoothly and easily through a site. Margalit is there to help retailers and other businesses not just correct those hesitations or failures, but also enhance the customer experience online.
She has a PhD in psychology, and says that physical stores routinely tap into consumers’ emotional side. In some ways, it’s just automatic. Being able to see the color of a dress, to feel the fabric’s texture, to see how it swings when you twirl around in it — all of those sensual experiences tap the emotional side of our brain.
Soft colors, watercolor images, hand-lettered fonts, beach-sand-and-sunset-saturated photos, and whimsical blog posts are all effective ways that Anthropologie and sister brand Free People mesh with the sensibilities of their customers.
Margalit says she advises clients to use content just this way, to engage customers and create a fantasy for those who are passing through without necessarily knowing what they want. You can see what she means at Vans, which took the time to connect with several locally known skateboarders nationwide and others to develop styles and products. Vans then profiled them, magazine-style, with eye-catching photos and copy.
“Gilbert Crockett — A wiry, bowlegged boy from Virigina— is quite an enigmatic fellow, the likes of which we’ve never seen on a skateboard before,” reads one such profile, for the “Crockett Pro.” “It was a no-brainer to offer Gil his own signature shoe. He’s an amazing and deserving skater whose part in the Vans video will be mind-blowing, and his attention to detail lends itself to making a great shoe. What’s really surprising is that considering Gil’s OCD personality, he didn’t want to make every pair by hand himself.”
How online retailers can better connect
Many department stores or retailers that cater to both men and women design those sections quite differently. Men tend to shop for pants when they need pants, for shirts when they need shirts, while women are more open to add this or that to their shopping errands.
Physical stores have responded to these differences by keeping their mens sections clear and straightforward, but adding opportunities for women to discover other things, things they may not have come into the store thinking about.
Retailers may want to consider designing their online sections for men and women with similar differences, Margalit says.
The fonts, colors, photography, and content should match a retailer’s vibe, and that of their customers. Colors like pink will evoke — for better or worse — notions of feminine things. A retailer catering to a punk crowd can post more alarming images, colors, and language because that will please and entice its visitors.
Finally, mass customization, says Margalit, is not just another way to differentiate merchandise. It’s also a way to appeal to shoppers’ emotions, by getting them to think about the look and feel of a jacket, a shoe, or a shirt, and the meaning that item will have. “Having influence on the shape of the object generates an emotional attachment,” she says.
“Retailers have to start thinking about the experience, that’s not just for stores,” she says. “When we sit in front of the computer, it’s a screen, and we’re not so emotional. The online store needs to provide us with some kind of experience, to create these feelings. It’s not explicit marketing, but an opportunity to connect with our emotional, sensual selves.”