According to leading digital experience (DX) company CoreMedia, retailers know that they have to transform their boring online product catalogues – but are often held back due to concerns about disrupting their existing online business.
Traditional online stores are focused on products, promotions and transactions. They’re efficient, secure and fast, but not very inspiring for customers. And, all too often, any attempt to improve their visual appeal or introduce more engaging content can end up being slow, costly and inefficient.
To help resolve this challenge, CoreMedia – the company that works with leading retail organisations including Homebase and Office Depot – has identified eight things UK retailers can do to bring together visual engagement, immersive content and incremental innovation – the three key foundations for B2C experiential commerce:
- Blend real-time product data with a wide variety of inspirational content: To ensure that e-commerce experiences are as relevant, unified and “frictionless” as possible, you need to be able to seamlessly combine transactional product data and engaging content. Content can include corporate content including marketing copy, editorial images, instructional information, product stories and examples, and even games. It can also include external content from social posts and data, news stories, and data on relevant trends and styles. It is important to have a great deal of control over the use and placement of this content, however, so that it always enhances — and doesn’t interrupt — the path to purchase.
- Gain creative control over layout, style and navigation: A rigid, catalogue-driven structure for displaying and navigating products is very effective for transactional commerce but does little for differentiation. Research has shown that the visual appearance of a web store is one of the most influential factors affecting a purchase decision. As such, the visual impact must move beyond a static online catalogue with basic images and product details. All of this requires the ability to operate “outside the box” of rigid site templates and navigational hierarchies to show products in context.
- Deepen the experience with rich media: Visual appeal has to do with more than just flexible templates, attractive layout, and responsive design. Companies must also have the ability to manage, edit, and integrate a wide variety of rich media content into their stores including photos, image maps, video, audio, and a wide range of related document types.
- Personalise the experience with relevant content: Different consumers have different needs and goals — and they expect that the e-commerce experience will adapt to reflect their unique history and current situation, so web stores must support a range of advanced personalisation scenarios.
- Build community and loyalty with social media: Social networking plays a critical role in product discovery, purchase, and ongoing loyalty. Companies that don’t support and integrate online conversations around their brand and products risk losing customers to competitors who do. So, web stores need to include support for a wide range of native and external social functionality including rating, comments and discussions — as well as integration with external social networks.
- Improve SEO, and deepen engagement: Having the best online store in the world means nothing if customers can’t find it. It isn’t enough for a store to be attractive to shoppers — it must be attractive to search engines as well. Being able to seamlessly blend e-commerce data with inspirational content results in an online store that is packed with large amounts of relevant, searchable content – helping to improve organic site ranking in search engines and driving traffic from earned media sources such as blogs, forums, review sites, social networks, and simple word of mouth, but it must do so while honouring and applying any existing URL and SEO rules from the online store.
- Use an intuitive information-based design environment: Creating, previewing, and delivering these experiential commerce stores requires an innovative design environment that is optimised for both marketing and e-commerce professionals. To effectively design experiences for different channels and touch points, it must be “information” or “content” based rather than “page-based”. This means that content should be separated from the layout — allowing stores to preview and manipulate individual content items and reassemble them on the fly into unique combinations for different visitors or contexts or devices. And since this kind of store will require the participation of two groups that typically have very different ways of working — marketing teams and e-commerce professionals — it requires lightweight and flexible collaboration tools.
- Incremental innovation: The final key to delivering true experiential commerce stores is the ability to transition incrementally and intelligently evolve the existing platform to an advanced customer experience platform. The desire to change everything overnight in response to pressing market challenges is understanding but is usually a recipe for failure.
Shifting to experiential commerce is not something that happens overnight, but with the proper preparation and partners, content and commerce can highlight each other’s strengths and provide the seamless, unified experience that modern consumers increasingly demand.