In Europe, eCommerce has matured into an integral part of the shopping experience. With the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets combined with ever-improving mobile data speeds and access, most consumers are fully connected for nearly every moment of every day. Brands and retailers that are properly mobile-commerce-enabled are seeing up to 60% of traffic, and a significant proportion of sales, coming through mobile devices. And recent research we conducted in the UK showed that 90% of consumers shop, browse, and buy on the move, making the wait at the gasoline pump, the commute, and even wakeful hours in the bedroom into an opportunity to buy. For some this is to relieve boredom or free up precious leisure time, but for many it’s simply about the joy of shopping. Still, even as the trend gains momentum, the pleasurable experience of shopping in a real store has yet to be created at scale online, where most of the effort is geared towards converting a shopper who already desires the product.
Take the UK Grocery market, where we are seeing the highest adoption levels of online shopping in the world. Both the built-for-online-business Ocado and the big brick-and-mortar players like Sainsburys and Tesco have helped harried consumers cram their weekly shop into any spare fragment of time. Baskets are available in a cloud platform, allowing multiple people using different devices to add products to the next order. Any family member can scan a barcode when an item runs out, or search and add when something springs to mind. Gone are the days of meticulously writing a list and then searching the aisles for each item. Tesco allows you to browse a list of items you purchased previously in the store or online, and Ocado has an algorithm that will predict this week’s shop based on past buying behaviors.
Still, other aspects of the physical shopping experience have proved difficult to emulate. Online grocery purchase patterns are typically more habitual and offer-sensitive. Waitrose brought some inspiration to the experience through celebrity recipes, but no one has yet managed to ignite the senses online in the way that physical food retailing can. Rather than try and replicate the authentic experience, Auchan harnessed the French consumer’s preference for click-and-collect over delivery as a way to rethink the role of the store. Their Drive store trial provides a quick and easy collection point—along with a physical space containing market-fresh produce, luxury impulse items, and personal services such as a butcher, cheese counter, and fishmonger. Low-consideration and bulky items are ordered in advance, online, and loaded directly in the car, leaving consumers unburdened and with time to touch, feel, and explore the goods that can turn a grocery trip into a feast of the senses.
The more stimulating online-shopping experiences harness multimedia and content to enhance the experience. Rapha, Knomo, The White Company, and made.com all feature inspiring contextual photography scenes combined with multiple close-up shots to demonstrate detailed product features, usage, and quality. ASOS replaced product photography with video to better demonstrate the flow and form of the clothing it sells. And taking video to the extreme, a Swedish retailer called only.com ramps up an immersive, interactive short story. Every item the characters are wearing in the production can be clicked on to pause the story and explore the product or make a purchase.
Burberry built this concept into their continued transformation of the catwalk, turning exclusive press events into open storefronts. Seasonal launches are streamed live; consumers not only get a front-row view; they are also offered the opportunity to rate and discuss the styles and shop from the new lines in real time.
Of course, the alternative to building a commerce experience is to simply create places of engagement. The same technology enabling the basket-in-the-cloud functionality also offers opportunities for brands to convert engaged consumers anywhere. Businesses such as Special K enable their brand advocates to shop within Facebook community pages. This experience shows the range of products available at your preferred retailer, plus current promotions—and without leaving the page, you can send items to a basket for your next order. This concept could extend into any moment of engagement at any digital touchpoint; with the entire Amazon catalog already available as an API, for example, almost any product can be bought anywhere. By fulfilling through consumers’ established delivery arrangements, brands no longer need to achieve a minimum basket size to close a profitable sale. They can maintain their retail relationships and even show they are materially investing in more sustainable delivery methods.
Simplifying the shopping experience has proved highly lucrative for those who have mastered this first wave of eCommerce. As the market quickly catches up, the next wave of growth will come from those who can inspire desire and create impulsive reactions, and then seamlessly convert those moments into simple and slick buying—creating one a single, seamless Continuous Commerce™ experience.
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