Retail is now digital. With over 210 million people in the USA having placed an order through ecommerce in 2017 and forecasts of $523B in online sales by 2020, it is clear this “fad” is here to stay. Retailers have long mastered the use of their stores to tap into the shopper’s emotions to elicit a sale – think Abercrombie’s scented stores – and this is with good cause: research from one retailer showed when you can connect emotion to a purchase, customer attrition rate drops, customer advocacy increases, and it results in an increase in the number of active customers (15% in their case). However, with store locations becoming endangered species (3,600 more doors set to close in 2018), retailers must expand their reach to create emotional connections across the internet – both through mobile and desktop/laptops.

Ecommerce was built to be convenient, speedy and egalitarian in nature. This measure has been passed and surpassed, many times over, by the small, tech bookseller based in Seattle, WA. Today, there is very little difference browsing and buying from a Target.com, Walmart.com or Amazon.com. That is a huge problem for retailers, such as Target or Nordstrom, who have traditionally attracted higher-income shoppers and have spent years and untold sums of money creating an emotional tie with shoppers through their stores. For them, to expand the customer’s experience from in-store to online, they must take into account more than just convenience because if they begin to only compete on that front, there is little chance of winning. So, how can retailers recreate the emotional experiences of a store through the internet?

Tapping into an emotional vein from a website is no easy task but it is a worthy goal.

A “digital retail experience” is defined by clicks and conversions with very little quantification of anything beyond the numbers. The data, however, does not paint the full picture. While impressions certainly matter and click-through rates are important, the overarching goal of an ecommerce site (beyond convenience, which is table stakes now) needs to be a comprehensive, immersive digital retail experience. To rekindle the devotion of their customer base, retailers must take the opportunity create an emotion connection – the way Abercrombie’s scents and music did with teens in the 2000s – even if there are no purchases.

In reaction to this, retailers are moving in this direction in two distinct ways.

  1. Augmented Reality

Many retailers have introduced augmented reality into their mobile apps (Home Depot, Target, Shepora, Wayfair, etc.). The rationale is clear. Showing a shopper how the chair they see would look like in their own him is a powerful tool. Or, what a room would look like painted teal. Or your face with purple eyeshadow. Or…or…or…the list is endless. By immersing the shopper with their product and making the showroom mobile – and fun – these retailers are capturing part of the emotional element of a store. The technology has a way to go but if it a foreshadowing of things to come, the retailer with the widest catalog via AR will have a leg up.

  1. “High-end” digital feel

Smaller ecommerce sites, such as Huckberry or Lyst, evoke a sense of luxury or bespoke quality because there are a limited amount of SKUs. Therefore, content creation is more manageable. Tough when you are dealing with 10X SKUs. Despite the additional effort, some retailers are leaning into their websites so they reflect the upscale look of their stores – most notably, Nordstrom. There is an undeniable sense of polish when visiting their home page and clicking through items. Curation and media content have a lot to do with this, with the result of strong branding. Instead of baiting for clicks on the home page with individual products, Nordstrom’s homepage opts to provide a feel and narrative for the experience – something not seen among their competitors. They transcend their four walls and provide a luxurious feeling through the internet, a feeling eerily similar to walking on the shiny floors of a Nordstrom store.

As ecommerce, and mobile, grows retailers will need to ask themselves “how do I capture the same in-store feel over the internet?”. With some strategic planning, such as emphasizing the feel of a website before optimizing for clicks and adopting new technology, like Augmented Reality, retailers will slowly adapt and accomplish this. This is the inevitable extension of the store experience – and very soon, it will be in your pocket and on your desk.

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