Online retailers are moving away from merely handling transactions and toward launching immersive digital experiences designed to engage shoppers.

Karly Cyr, director of marketing at Mobify

While we may not be frequenting physical retail stores much as of late, these brick-and-mortar stores have long been showcasing an important trend that’s now starting to move online: The shift from transactions to engagement.

Over the last few years, retail stores have shifted their focus from selling the product to creating engaging experiences that connect the customer with the lifestyle or brand. Now, we see the same shift online.

Focus shifting from transactions to engagement

We’ve seen countless brands introduce immersive in-store experiences to help connect shoppers with their brand and lifestyle.

TOMS created an in-store virtual reality (VR) experience that virtually transports shoppers to Peru to witness the impact of their “buy one, give one” shoe campaign to children in need. Barnes & Noble implemented a full restaurant and bar open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, aiming to encourage guests to stay as long as they’d like. Hermès even launched an exhibition that pays homage to the iconic silk scarf with a series of interactive installations, including a cafe, nightclub, and skate park.

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Now we’re beginning to see the same thing online, as retailers go beyond the transaction and launch immersive digital experiences to engage shoppers.

One such example is Lancôme, which offers Virtual Try On, an augmented reality-based experience that lets shoppers try different lipstick shades to find the perfect fit. Their parent brand, L’Oréal, also launched a personalized hair color brand, Color & Co., which offers virtual consultations where you can video chat with an expert colorist directly on your mobile or desktop browser. Meanwhile, ASOS has pioneered intelligent Fit Assistants to provide better data-driven guidance on which articles of clothing would best fit a given shopper. This improves the size selection process and minimizes the need for the shopper to go through unnecessary returns.

The pandemic will accelerate this trend

The COVID-19 pandemic will only accelerate this trend, as the digital experience becomes more integrated with the overall brand experience.

With many physical retail locations shut down or operating at limited capacity, customers don’t have the opportunity to browse and shop at stores as often. Even when stores are fully operational again, concerns around safety and physical distancing measures will force many shoppers to rethink going to stores to “shop around.” McKinsey & Co. reported that 75% of Chinese consumers said they avoided shopping malls in the two weeks after stores reopened.

It appears the return to stores will be gradual, but with the right kind of digital experience, retailers can form that deep connection with shoppers online.

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What does this look like?

The traditional catalog-like digital shopping experience will need to evolve to enable this type of deep customer engagement and brand connection online. It can’t be just transaction-based—which can be difficult when ecommerce platforms are designed to deliver exactly that.

Digital experiences will need to include immersive content and engaging functionality and features such as enhanced search, custom tooling, and personalization.

This adds complexity and retailers and brands will need to bring together multiple applications seamlessly. The best way to do so is with a headless commerce approach. Introducing a leaner, decoupled web storefront on top of the apps allows you to blend these different pieces into one cohesive, engaging customer experience. It also sets you up for future growth as you can easily add new features and functionality as technology evolves and customer expectations change.

In a time of so much uncertainty, one thing is for certain: digital experience is key. Retailers able to create a unique, engaging experience for their online shoppers will thrive and come out the other side of this pandemic even stronger.

Mobify offers software designed to build, run, and evolve a web storefront in a headless environment. 

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