Article Published by Internet Retailer
Today’s omnichannel approach seeks not to simply simulate the brick-and-mortar experience, but to augment it.
The retail world saw its first digital transformation when companies took their business online in the late 1990s. Suddenly able to connect with customers in a meaningful way outside the store, brands were challenged to design a user experience that mirrored the physical shopping environment.
Two decades later, retailers are again talking about a digital transformation. Armed with smartphones, tablets and mobile data plans, consumers’ online behavior is practically unrecognizable from that of the ‘90s. Plus, innovative web tools have allowed developers to engage with these “always-on” shoppers in more dynamic ways. Today’s omnichannel approach seeks not to simply simulate the brick-and-mortar experience, but to augment it.
As retailers revamp their digital strategies to catch up with these changes, it’s critical they don’t simply replace cogs in their original web wheels with new tools, but that they also rethink how to deliver a user experience optimized for these emerging technologies.
For years, marketers have been able to say, “We have more data about our customers than ever before.” Now, retailers are finally putting together the digital strategy and infrastructure to change the way they approach sales by using that data. The next phase of user experience will likely showcase a more granular level of personalization than companies have ever been able to deliver.
Offering product recommendations and special offers based on a person’s shopping preferences is nothing new, but as companies continue to gather customer-specific data they’ll be able to put together even more effective incentives for individual shoppers. For example, companies can identify customers who only end up purchasing when they have a coupon, then create deals on the fly to get those specific shoppers back on the site. Or they might notice a certain dollar amount where a customer tends to draw the line, then tailor recommended products to avoid exceeding that limit – increasing the likelihood that he or she will add them to the cart.
Marketers could even automate certain upscale features that were once too inefficient to offer every shopper, such as personal shopping assistants that select pieces of clothing or accessories that match an individual’s style. The technology for such innovations already exists—it’s just up to retailers to prioritize personalization throughout their design process.
As digital marketers pour resources into capturing consumers’ attention while they’re on the go, they often forget one critical fact: No one’s network connection is as fast in the real world as it is in the lab. Therefore, they often end up designing web pages and apps that consumers are unable to interact with on slow connections. Beyond rendering the time spent designing these environments as useless, it can even hurt their bottom line. Amazon’s site optimizers famously reported that every 100ms of loading time decreased their revenue by one percent. With that in mind, marketers must take the constraints of consumers’ real-world mobile networks into consideration when designing their ecommerce tools.
One way companies can do this is to deliver a separate experience for shoppers depending on whether they’re connected through Wi-Fi or their mobile network. That way, consumers with enough bandwidth can still enjoy dynamic sites while mobile data users won’t get bogged down by slow loading times. Similarly, optimizing apps for individual operating systems and specific mobile devices can also smooth customers’ browsing experience.
Google is already experimenting with ways to load articles and ads practically instantly via what they call Accelerated Mobile Pages. Fortune reported that the tech giant’s tests show pages that use AMP HTML load four times faster and use 10 times less data on average than traditional mobile web pages. No matter where on the spectrum they lie—from simply designing apps with specific mobile devices in mind to leveraging cutting-edge technology like AMP—retailers who design with users’ network constraints in mind will be far better positioned for success.
The Value of Visualization
One of the most glaring differences between today’s digital transformation and that of the initial migration to the web is the current standard and potential for visual elements in digital commerce. Primed by early smartphone-based virtual reality technology and futuristic, forthcoming augmented reality systems like Microsoft’s Hololens, the limits on what consumers expect to “see” are quickly dissolving. For marketers, this will play a massive role in the way they approach bringing the experience of the physical store online.
Visualization especially has the potential to change the way consumers make emotion-driven purchases. As helpful as it can be to view certain products – such as clothing, shoes, jewelry and furniture—online, consumers often end up coming into the store to touch, feel and try on these items before executing a purchase. Getting creative with visualization tools, companies may be able to bridge the gap and boost conversion for these personal products.
Online home décor company Wayfair, for example, now offers its customers an augmented-reality app that shows them what certain pieces of furniture would look like in their home. Similarly, Ditto, an online glasses retailer, allows users to create a 3-D model of their head using their webcam in just seconds. That way, they can virtually try on any pair of glasses to see how they look without having to head into a store. Even less high-tech options, like simply offering interactive product guides full of high-resolution images, can help lower the barrier for customers shopping online. For now, these tools typically require too much bandwidth to work in the mobile environment, requiring shoppers to first connect to Wi-Fi or access the site from a laptop. But, as long as developers keep these constraints in mind, they can get creative when it comes to helping shoppers “see” products before they buy.
At its roots, UX will never truly change: The goal will always be to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to buy. But in this second digital transformation, innovation of both technology and process will surely change its execution.
ObjectWave is a full-service provider of digital commerce solutions. He can be reached at email@example.com.