At what felt like the snap of a finger, the brick-and-mortar store, and its benefits, were gone and ecommerce was the only option for consumers to engage with many of their favorite brands. Digital experiences will continue to be a primary focus, not just for consumers but also for brands in how they market for the rest of the year and throughout the pandemic. Gartner believes that digital channels will account for 80% of marketing budgets this year.

Replicating the In-Store Customer Experience Online

While being able to touch the products and walk out with them immediately are strongly tied to the in-store experience—which we discussed in our first blog post—digital is rapidly advancing in its ability to duplicate these benefits online and brands are investing in new technology to supplement the following areas.

Here are a few of the digital equivalents that you can look to implement into your marketing programs to give consumers a taste of the in-store benefits, from our new Replicating the In-Store Experience Online ebook.

1. Customer service: chatbots and next-best action

The combination of technology and first-party data has quickly advanced this area of the experience. People are becoming much more accustomed to interacting with chatbots, both to solve issues and to help find the right products, especially when gift shopping. Making customer service reps available through online channels is also a growing trend, as brands proactively make themselves available to answer questions.

Brands are also getting much more savvy at utilizing consumer data to allow their digital messages to play the role of the helpful associate. Personalized product and next-best-action recommendations help break down the challenge of discovering products and parsing through hundreds or thousands of options.

Next-best-action recommendations are also strongly beneficial for post-purchase or issue-related customer service support. It allows consumers to have the same personalized experience when engaging a call center or digital customer service team as when they are shopping for products. Meanwhile, the brand can better understand how to respond with relevance without having to get to know the customer on each phone call.

2. Using your senses: augmented reality (AR)

Through augmented reality, consumers might not be able to sit on a couch or put on a shirt, but they’re able to experience the next best thing. Technology companies like Epigraph are creating functionality that allows consumers to use their phone’s camera to place 3D products into their homes.

Smart mirrors can also bring aspects of the dressing room or makeup counter to the convenience of consumers’ homes. It doesn’t fully replace the first-hand experience, but it provides consumers with a much better idea of if the product is right for them compared to a 2D image on an ecommerce product page.

On a less technical level, brands have also taken an approach in recent years to better represent the people that buy their products. Brands are investing in a diverse collection of models to show how the clothing being sold on digital channels looks on a wide range of complexions, ages, and body types.

The ability for consumers to see a shirt on someone who looks like them helps validate the purchase, while also meeting the expectations of consumers for diversity and inclusion from the brand.

3. Impulse buys: retail media networks, social proof, and personalization

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Consider the prime real estate at the end of aisles and in key aspects of the store. Those likely take place because a manufacturer has worked out the opportunity with the retailer to have that enhanced placement where the products will stand out. Better placement increases the likelihood that consumers come across them when shopping for what they came to buy.

The same is happening online. CPG brands are competing for similar placement on ecommerce sites through retail media networks. For example, Toro might pay Home Depot or Amazon a premium to have its mowers show up at the top of the page as a sponsored item so that they can get in front of as many eyes as possible.

We’re also seeing a greater use of social proof and demand—”16 people have purchased this product in the last hour” or “Only three items left in stock”— as a way to ramp up the urgency of purchases.

Digital experiences also have an advantage when it comes to personalization. Physical stores can’t change what is sitting on an end cap based on who is walking by at any moment. But that is becoming a reality through digital channels.

Most people have witnessed the relevance of being targeted for a product or category that resembles an item they were just browsing. And the speed and relevance of digital targeting is continuing to improve. This experience is driving impulse buys online, even if the customer knows they can’t have the item immediately. The experience of immediate gratification can still be met through the digital experience, especially if the brand has honed that experience.

4. Convenience: real-time notifications and contactless pickup

While shopping online doesn’t provide the same immediate gratification as the in-store experience, shipping and other forms of pickup are also making online ordering a more appealing option. One way that’s happening is by the increasing ability to keep consumers—and brands, in certain instances—in the loop every step of the way.

With more purchases being delivered to homes, real-time notifications are becoming status-quo to ensure consumers know exactly when a shipment will arrive at their doorsteps.

Retailers like Target are also utilizing their mobile apps for curbside pickup. Buyers let them know when they are on the way, the brand can track their progress through their phone’s GPS, and an associate can wheel out their cart as soon as they park.

Not only do consumers get to stay in their cars, but it cuts down on the time they have to wait in the parking lot.

If you’re looking for more customer service strategies, download our free ebook Replicating the In-Store Experience Online for additional insights.

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Our DEG retail marketing experts have helped national and global brands—including Crocs, Dooney & Bourke, PepsiCo, Gap Inc., AMC Theatres, and GORE-TEX—implement engaging strategies to connect with customers across all digital channels.

Let’s talk about how we can work together to develop long-lasting digital connections for your brand.

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