Retailers Need to Bring Shop-the-Look Online to Ring Up Profits


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Source: New York & Company

Fashion and department stores, perhaps more than other retail segments, understand the benefits of visual merchandising. Consumers may set out to shop for a specific item, but seeing “that item” curated as part of an outfit with related garments and accessories is a surefire way to upsell complementary apparel.

It’s no secret. Consumers in “buy mode” of their own volition are pliable and more susceptible to action if inspired. The act of shopping is emotional. It invokes the individual’s self-image — her sense of style, sense of self, and often who she aspires to be. So when she sees an outfit skillfully presented together with accessories on a mannequin or in a store display, she sees her “best” self wearing the ensemble. She’s invited into an immersive experience that creates a potent buying environment and often results in a further sale.

This, of course, is a simplistic take on retailing.

The advent of ecommerce and the continued proliferation of smartphones, apps and high-speed mobile Internet have caused a sea of change in how consumers shop. Shoppers today have volumes of information at their fingertips, wherever they are, whenever and however they want to use it. Access to information is allowing consumers to re-invent the shopping experience: Rather than passively engaging with retailers, they hold the means to make informed shopping decisions — right in the palm of their hand.

According to Barkley and The Boston Consulting Group, 60 percent of millennials say that it’s convenient to have a smartphone or tablet to research or purchase a product on the go, and more than 50 percent use their smartphones to research products while shopping.

The pendulum has swung, shifting shopping power from the shopkeeper to the consumer. Retailers have responded in a variety of ways in order to capture customer attention and then provide the easiest and most seamless shopping experience possible. The time-deprived consumer can now research a product at work, hot-foot it to a store during lunch, check inventory levels on the way via mobile, and buy it with a proximity payment like Apple Pay.

Yet while it’s fundamental to engage with consumers wherever they congregate online, it’s more difficult to recreate the power of in-store visual merchandising in an online environment. All too often, the online experience falls dramatically short. Pages filled with rows and columns of khakis with no matching shoes or accessories in sight do nothing to inspire a customer to buy anything other than khakis.

When forced to sift through multiple category pages and rows upon rows of flat product images (aka “the grid”), the consumer is more often than not forced to put a look together themselves — and it isn’t easy. And if it isn’t easy, the consumer more often than not will leave without making a more substantial purchase.

For some retailers, the artistry of visual merchandising has somehow been lost along the transition from in-store to online.

There are reasons for this. It can be a long and lengthy process to put together a page that replicates the in-store “shopping the look” experience. It requires product imagery, graphic design, marketing expertise and a healthy Web-dev team to build the experience according to branding and technical specifications. With just a few iterations back and forth, this process can take months and is inevitably costly.

Put that sequence against the needs of a seasonal, fast-moving fashion retailer — and the prospect of replicating an engaging in-store experience online is often out of reach.

But the ecommerce industry is changing. Retailers are finding innovative ways to display their wares in a way that’s both immersive and transactional.

Hover over the rich lifestyle images to check prices; compare outfit combinations that are ready-made; click once to add items — or even an entire outfit — to your basket or “buy now.” Savvy retailers are using functionalities like these to create shoppable, transactional content experiences. And the technologies that enable them are becoming more common, easier to use and far less expensive than traditional coding.

The best shoppable content technologies allow digital merchandisers with little technical expertise to pull all types of content together, creating a shop-the-look experience that can be published instantly and updated often. Shoppable content platforms allow retailers to accomplish “shop the look” experiences on their sites in hours, rather than months, and at a fraction of the cost.

Imagine if a brick-and-mortar store could change its in-store displays every day, creating a more dynamic and interesting shopping experience that keeps customers coming back. Today, there’s no good reason why online stores can’t do exactly that. So let’s make the online experience match the offline experience and bring the artistry of visual merchandising back to where it belongs — in front of every consumer, wherever they are.

As first published in Chain Store Age.

Brian Rigney
As Zmags' CEO, Brian has over twenty years' experience leading high performing, entrepreneurial teams in launching new businesses and bringing innovative new products to market. Prior to Zmags, Brian was vice president sales and business development for CashStar, where he led the sales and business development strategy. He also is the founder and CEO of BlueTarp Financial, Inc., a breakthrough information and payments company for the construction industry. Brian has a bachelor's degree from Colby College and a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh.


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