Xavier Heriat, vp of client success, Scalefast
Buyer preferences and shopping habits continue to evolve at an ever-increasing pace, making it more difficult for brands to keep up. Pre-quarantine consumers broadly shunned social shopping, but now social commerce is everywhere, from Facebook to TikTok.
Consumer intent changes over time, and to ensure a brand meets customer expectations, they must have an intimate understanding of what these expectations are in the first place. Much can be inferred from the various channels with which shoppers decide to engage. For example, whether a customer is visiting a flagship store versus a retailer, shopping in-person versus online — and if they are online, whether that’s on mobile or desktop — can help determine a successful user experience or a lost customer and better inform brands’ strategies.
Recognizing intent and using it to personalize the digital experience
Customers are not hiding their intent. By coming into a store, they are signaling to a business that they have questions and they need that product urgently. A customer shopping online is demonstrating that they likely have more time to receive the item but are looking for a deal. Shopping via social media is where consumers go for impulse buys, meaning they will pay full price but won’t be shopping at a store to add items to their cart.
With the boom of e-commerce and steady emergence of social commerce, brands must learn how to implement those traditional in-person tactics of personalization, customer support and targeted merchandising through an online portal that is inherently less personal. When customers walk into a physical store, associates ask how they can help or if there’s anything specific the customer is looking for. Presumably they already know the customer is there for shoes because it’s a shoe store, but they ask right up front and send the customer to the item they’re looking for. Similarly, the customer has clearly communicated a different expectation of service when they walk into Nordstrom Rack instead of Nordstrom. An online shopping experience should reflect the same customer intent clues.
While brands have long-embraced web technology that supports personalization, too often cost, time to market or both inhibit the larger gains that could be realized from these custom web experiences.
Data is an unglamourous part of the luxury fashion and beauty business but knowing how a customer navigates a website provides rich clues to how to approach the next shopper with similar priorities and preferences. E-commerce sites can quickly collect data to get a pulse on the way their audiences are thinking and feeling and use it to craft a seamless user experience or change on the fly based on predicted behaviors.
Leverage the full range of digital retail options to customize the customer experience
Brands are realizing that their web store should no longer be one-size-fits-all. Digital shopping should address a broad range of consumer intent to maintain its place as retail’s leading growth channel. Consumers are demanding a more relevant experience on par with physical retail but in an increasingly digital world.
The brands that recognize employees are their biggest fans and best ambassadors are creating employee stores, giving their employees and friends private access to distressed or even unreleased products, providing incentives for promoting products online — a win for both morale and the bottom line.
Pre-sales appeal to the elite clientele who care most about exclusive access and shopping new arrivals before the public. While the operational side of this can be painful, it can be made easier through a distinctive experience that only sells future deliveries. This online extension can boost sell-through at full price and provide vital intelligence on what market demand could look like once the product arrives.
Product drops are another option, but product collaborations can crash even the largest brand’s site. Despite their success, brands tend not to do more of them because of the infrastructure and experience needed to support these in the old e-commerce world. Instead, using a specialized store to funnel those sales with the right partner can build brand excitement and boost new customer acquisition multiple times per year without negatively impacting the main store.
End-of-season markdowns can be death by a thousand cuts for a retailer, but a sound strategy of limited liquidation events can move aged inventory at higher margins. A self-identified flash sale visitor has lower expectations going in — deep discounts, broken size runs and restrictions to the standard return policy. An alternative discount site is key to not distract the customers who are coming to the main site for full-priced products.
On the re-commerce side, these shoppers have identified they are brand-aware and willing to spend, but not as much as they would on a new item. They also care about authenticity verification and potentially require more liberal return policies than the main store would provide. This service also requires dedicated logistics and operations that aren’t well-suited to the main web store. There are marketplaces doing this already, but the right operational setup could make it more realistic for brands to nurture their next wave of full-price customers while they are still aspirational.
Incremental revenue can be scalable through specialty stores
Taking on these types of specialty stores would have been a risky career move for e-commerce executives a few months ago, but the market has since spoken. Decision makers need to be prepared for a consumer who is constantly evolving over the next year or two. Consumers are demanding a more relevant and personalized experience and they shouldn’t have to allow a store to track them all over the web for the privilege. For brands willing to open their specialty doors and let customers walk in, solutions are out there to make incremental revenue accessible and scalable.