The online retail experience used to be fairly straightforward, with a simple grid of product images, menus, a cart or basket, and a checkout. Now, of course, as consumers’ expectations have evolved with the proliferation of smartphones, so too has the online retail experience.
New business models enabled by new technologies epitomize a rapidly changing retail scene. For example, omni-channel, multichannel, social and mobile commerce have multiplied the opportunities to engage with today’s always-on consumer. And in an increasingly crowded marketplace, retailers are keen to take advantage of new opportunities to differentiate themselves amongst the field.
In terms of consumer behavior and expectations, there are several important consequences of this evolutionary path.
First, consumers no longer carve out specific Internet time to search and shop for a specific product. Instead, they multitask to fit online shopping into their increasingly busy schedule — while sitting on a train, half-watching a TV show, or during a quick break from work. Consumers are always on.
Mobile is, of course, the juggernaut that has created this change. A study by comScore indicates that 174 million U.S. consumers (72 percent) now own smartphones and 93 million (38 percent) now own tablets. The same study indicates that 66 percent of time spent with online retailers is on mobile. It is important to understand that we live today in a mobile-first world.
Moreover, consumers expect the retail experience to be familiar and consistent across every digital touchpoint. If I save something on my smartphone, I expect to be able to view that product later, when I have more time, on my tablet or laptop.
Research by Econsultancy indicates that up to 40 percent of consumers start their retail journey on one device and complete it on another. Mobile has produced a situation where consumers are, in effect, much more spontaneous. They snack on online content at moments throughout the day. As a consequence, grabbing their attention and immersing them in your products right at the moment they land on your site — creating a “shoppable moment” — is absolutely vital.
Secondly, the growth in smartphones, tablets and hybrid laptops has led to the expectation that everything online must be interactive and clickable through a finger. Pictures, buttons, text, icons — everything is fair game and consumers actively seek it out. Touching or hovering over an image to reveal further menus or a buy-now button helps immerse users more deeply in the retail experience and funnel them toward the checkout. This is especially true for younger generations — the digital natives who have grown up with touchscreens and mobile devices as an intrinsic part of their lives.
Conversely, when there isn’t an obvious path to purchase — if the user is uncertain, confused or worse, encounters a commerce dead-end — then that experience will fail to meet the visitor’s expectation of constant interactivity. And where interactivity is absent, consumers are likely to judge the retailer as delivering a poor or inadequate experience — and that creates for retailers a very real risk for bounces, no return visits and poor word of mouth.
In short, consumers’ expectation of a consistent, interactive user experience across multiple devices, combined with more spontaneous online shopping habits, increasingly raises ‘the bar’ for retailers facing an ever more complex ecommerce proposition.
By focusing on well-executed creative and shoppable content — an inspiring image that is both interactive and transactional, for example — it is possible to grab the consumer’s attention immediately and spark further discovery and deeper engagement. Savvy retailers are already doing this, piecing together online customer journeys that bring every digital touchpoint into play and making that journey rich and immersive from the moment that a consumer lands at their website.
Yet the key challenge for any online retailer is that, traditionally, creating such experiences requires significant investment of time and money. Creating and storyboarding a multi-device Web experience, custom coding it, iterating on that, scheduling a release, and finally publishing certainly takes weeks and can take months — and is inevitably costly.
Perhaps paradoxically, as the challenges to online retailers become more complex, the technologies that enable them to publish shoppable content experiences are becoming more commonplace and easier to use. The best of these shoppable content platforms allow in-house teams, without technical expertise, to pull all types of rich, engaging content together, publish instantly and update often — taking minutes or hours rather than months — and at a fraction of the cost.
In a market that is increasingly crowded, building out a digital content strategy based on these consumer trends gives retailers the best possible advantage.