My best friend when I was a teenager owned a fashion retail store — well, her family did. One of those stores you see in towns when you travel to Italy, way before discount malls made their way there.
She worked in the store during the summer and to help her mother out on Saturdays. It was a perfect opportunity for me to spend time with her, while doing something fashion-related.
Incidentally, I was producing a line of earrings at the time, pearls and lace, very chic, made them myself. My mother kept a pair for sentimental reasons and two years ago when they were all the rage everyone was asking her where they could buy a pair after seeing hers. Foreseeing trends is a skill.
I remember how shoppers would often come in all at once, and it was crazy with items flying off the shelves, women coming and going to try things on, pick an item or an outfit to purchase and leave us in a heap of tops, bottoms, and accessories all scattered on the table in the middle of the small shop.
Folding shirts back into their pristine shapes is an art, I tell you. We organized shelves by color and displays by outfit. I loved helping with the window arrangements. Everything was within reach, including our expert eye for when to offer advice or help.
To this day whenever I am in a physical store, often to conduct work-related research, I end up helping people pick a color or an outfit.
I often joke with my friends that I could easily become a fashion consultant because I love helping people find the item that is perfect for them. And since I have been working on digital experiences for the best part of the last dozen years, I transfer that eye for creating flows online. The data is in favor of providing good experiences.
Yet data alone is not enough, you also need to figure out ways to keep things fresh with storytelling, both online and for those retailers that have them, in store. Betabrand is a good example; have you seen their women fall comedy collection#? It followed a successful line modeled by female PhD's#.
— Betabrand (@Betabrand) August 18, 2014
The brand has a lively community#, and it tests constantly both its product line and its digital experience. The BS jacket in the tweet above got crowdfunded, by the way, so you can go ahead and order it.
There is indeed a lot you can do to create a digital experience that makes it easier and more fun to shop.
How can we use digital to create impact in store?
We are fast approaching the holidays and with the forecasters predicting a very strong cyber-season, many brands with physical stores have been planning "drive to retail" digital initiatives.
A year ago showrooming was a major concern — retailers worried about the practice of examining merchandise in their physical location, and then buying it online, sometimes at a lower price. When stores are hard to find, or online incentives are too good to pass up and the experience is better, this is bound to happen.
However, new research Google conducted with Ipsos Media CT and Sterling Brands# supports a more nuanced view. What happens in store matters. According to the research:
- 2-3 consumers report not finding the information they need in store
- 43% then leaving frustrated
- 71% of in-store shoppers who use smartphones for online research say their device has become more important to their experience in store
An observation I had just this past weekend is that shelves stocked up high to the ceiling may work well as a way to entice shoppers from a distance, however store staff needs to keep an eye on making inventory available to people by moving it down rapidly. I was scolded for taking a sweater off the window display to look at it because I just could not reach up high.
Crowded stores with inventory out of reach make a compelling case for trying online or never going back. The numbers tell you only what did not happen, not why. For that you need to pay attention to the whole experience, some of which can be made better.
What the research found:
- 3 out of 4 shoppers who find local information in search results helpful are more likely to visit stores; this includes in store item availability information — that was the promise that sold Milo's utility# to eBay
- 42% of in-store shoppers search for information online while in store. For the most part, they're using search engines (64%). However, almost half of shoppers head to the retailer's own site or app. Only 30% will look up details from a different retailer's web site or app — Sephora's app was designed to assist with in store experiences, Nordstrom has been making technology investments for its stores#
- 32% of shoppers visit stores when they're first thinking about a purchase, and 33% actively research in stores to find out more about a potential purchase; 85% say they'd be more likely to shop in places that offer personalized coupons and exclusive offers in-store — there is another way to offer personalization, of course, and that is to be helpful in person by providing recommendations, being a sounding board
Do this well, and you capitalize on the other trend — webrooming. People do their research online, then go to the store to make the purchase after looking at the item, feeling it, trying it on, making the trip an experience with friends.
Yes, once people are done browsing in store you may be left with a heap of clothes and accessories or other goods to put away, that is how we interact with our physical environment when we do.
Keeping an eye on what people can and cannot do — from how walkable and roomy store areas are, to the availability of items and expertise, the store can be a tremendous asset.
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.