Redefining Retail for the Experience Era

It’s not just shopping — today’s retail journey is about delivering game-changing experiences.

Nike’s LeBron 16 King “Court Purple” sneakers were always going to be a hot ticket. Not only were they released alongside LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers debut, but they were only sold in LA — and it was rumored that, when King James hit the court for the first time as a newly minted Laker, he’d be wearing Court Purples.

Fans wanted a piece. And Foot Locker knew they had an opportunity to redefine this retail experience.

To engage young, mobile-oriented shoppers, Foot Locker rolled out an interactive scavenger hunt dubbed “The Hunt.” Participants used a special augmented reality (AR) app, fanning out across LA in search of specific locations — and in pursuit of a pair of LeBron’s limited edition sneakers.

Foot Locker isn’t alone in its quest to create experience-driven commerce. More and more retailers are upping their game with dynamic experiences that engage and activate their target customers.

No longer is a great display window or a sale of 20 percent off enough to get customers in the physical or virtual door. Today, retail brands that can surprise and delight with total relevance, limited friction, and an all-around appealing path from browse to buy, are the ones destined for better customer engagement — and success.

“We continue to see brands trying to find a way to bring either unique experiences or products to the market in order to have a reason to reach out or communicate with the customer,” says Michael Klein, director of industry strategy for retail at Adobe. “People are not as interested in just buying material items, rather they are investing in experiences.”

Creating seamless purchase opportunities

Since people are buying experiences over products, companies are seeking to understand and leverage the disruptive forces and emerging technologies that are redefining retail for this moment in time — the Experience Era.

Experience development and delivery ultimately will determine who wins and who lags behind. The winners will be retail brands that can make commerce a seamless part of the overall customer experience, meeting people at every point in their path to purchase and ensuring every experience along the way is shoppable.

Miss the mark, miss the motivation, or miss the opportunity to wow customers with meaningful interactions, and you’ll lose that critical competitive advantage. But understanding the art and science of why people buy, along with delivering compelling, consistent, and commerce-enabled experiences, will get them clicking and converting.

A compelling experience: The art and science of why we buy

Since the beginning of mass retail, consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brands have been laser-focused on what makes customers buy. From packaging, to on-shelf positioning, to callouts and offers, CPG companies have mastered testing, retesting, and reimagining the customer experience just to get more cart space.

With online shopping, though, the aisles are endless and the virtual carts never overflow. Still, there’s an art and science to why customers buy, whether it’s scooping something off of a shelf or clicking “add to cart.” Often, those motivations overlap.

“Link your content to something that’s already familiar to your customers and that doesn’t require a lot of cognitive energy to process,” says Memzy cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon. “If you link your content or value proposition to something that feels familiar to the customer’s brain — an existing mental model — you’ll have an easier entry point toward persuasion.”

Retailers need to understand this highly visceral customer response and, from there, organize compelling experiences and touchpoints to trigger positive connections and an innate drive to buy.

“When I look at companies’ messaging, I instantly recognize if it’s likely to work or not,” says Carmen. “The ones that are most effective are the ones that link a proposition to something that already exists in the customer’s brain and rewards what’s already there.”

For example, she says, you often hear an upsell message start with “congratulations for buying product x, now you’re ready for product y.”

“This works because it links a new product with an existing mental model and rewards you for something you’re already doing or believing,” she says.

It’s an approach that often involves compelling visual experiences. “Retailers have to find new ways to get compelling visual information,” says Marcia Flicker, Ph.D., associate professor at the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business. “Just as they need to have good displays and a good experience in the store, they have to offer a good experience online.”

Deliver consistency

Familiarity and engaging displays are just the beginning. To create those experiences and maintain a consistent, cohesive path to purchase, retailers — whether e-commerce only or “brick-and-click” — need to deliver a consistent experience across every customer interaction.

“Think about the millions of variations,” says Elliot Sedegah, group manager for Adobe Experience Manager strategy and product marketing, “all of the different shots, angles, videos a brand has when it comes to digital assets.” If those assets are hard to find internally or by external partners promoting and selling your brand, you could wind up with a less-than-positive customer experience.

“You’re going to see a lot of conversions die on the page, or other customer satisfaction issues, because you aren’t showing the latest sneaker or jacket on your site,” Elliot explains. “If you show the 2017 edition and it’s 2018, customers aren’t going to want to buy.”

The solution, he explains, is applying digital asset management (DAM) to create a single source of truth for all of your content. It will be the go-to resource for designers, marketers, retail partners, and others who need access to branded content and assets. Once content and assets are unified in a DAM, all stakeholders share the one repository — streamlining development, design, and delivery while, at the same time, ensuring consistent, cohesive customer experiences on every platform, every time.

One leading luggage and bag manufacturer regularly has close to 3,000 products, with 1,500 new items launched on their site each year — and every product has a number of images and assets to help bring the quality and craftsmanship to life. Keeping their site and campaigns current was a constant issue.

The brand wanted to ensure their digital touch points were on par with the in-store shopping experience, which meant bringing in images, videos, and other digital assets. Initially they outsourced digital asset management, but soon found it difficult to get new product images and videos live as inventory and customer tastes changed.

Since integrating Adobe Experience Manager assets, though, this brand can get product content ready and onto their site up to 40 percent faster.

Now, each bag featured on the site includes multiple product views and videos so customers can check out products from a variety of angles, seeing both inside and out, and zooming on details like zippers and stitching. Customers can also overlay three-letter monograms onto any bag in real-time, changing font styles and colors until they find their favorite. This has increased session times by up to 40 percent.

This compelling e-commerce experience wouldn’t be possible without a DAM that’s enabling them to create compelling, personalized experiences that keep customers on the site and engaging with the brand.

Meet customers where they are

With the right innate and design-driven triggers in place — and a consistent, cohesive, cross-channel journey thanks to streamlined digital assets — retailers can fuel a positive, action-oriented shopping experience for customers. Once people are “there,” however, there’s still a final step — confirming that all-important “click to buy.”

No matter the platform, customers are motivated to buy by emotions and sensations — and those sensations outrank price, features, and practical attributes. Emotional response to TV advertising is three times more likely to influence buying decisions than the actual content of the ad, and people are more likely to be loyal to a brand that sparks positive feelings.

Given this emotional connection, it’s no surprise that 95 percent of purchasing decisions are subconscious, with emotions driving what products make it to checkout. For retailers, creating those emotional reactions can pull customers deeper into the journey and the experience of the brand.

Many retailers are using holidays and other special occasions to create emotional connections. While the traditional holiday shopping season still anchors the calendar, a new crop of shoppable events is driving more customers to click and convert all year long.

“Retailers are trying to find reasons to communicate with customers or, ideally, to inspire another purchase,” Michael says. “It used to be coming out of Christmas and Hanukkah you go right into Valentine’s Day and President’s Day. Now, though, we’re seeing Prime Day in the summer, Singles’ Day before Thanksgiving, and other occasions driving significant sales.”

As part of the annual back-to-school shopping season, Labor Day 2018 was the first day outside the traditional holiday shopping season to top $2 billion in online sales in the United States. Americans spent $58.1 billion online during the July to September sale period.

But the “holiday” spikes reach far beyond the United States. Since 2009, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day global shopping festival has redefined the e-commerce calendar, quickly becoming the biggest global shopping event in the world. In 2017, Singles’ Day generated more than $25 billion in sales in just 24 hours, up 39 percent from 2016. The data is staggering, especially compared to e-commerce sales on the traditional significant shopping dates. Black Friday and Cyber Monday, for example, generated just $11.6 billion in online sales across the two days.

The future of brick — and click

Looking ahead, your customers are going to be experiencing more in their brick-and-click lives — and that’s going to make them even more demanding of the experiences you deliver in both B2C and B2B worlds.

“Customers are much more demanding,” says Marcia. “They know they’re in control and that marketers and retailers have to adapt to them. If they don’t like what they see, they know they can keep shopping and very quickly find something else that better suits them — and an experience that better suits them.”

To ensure customers are always seeing and experiencing what they want when they want it, it’s important to focus on technology that enables you to connect the dots between data, real-time expectations, and delivery. Beyond that, though, the future of retail will no doubt look very diverse, even as retailers focus on carving out their own experiences and unique paths to purchase. Much of this future will hinge on technologies like AI, AR, and virtual reality (VR).

Immersive technologies will be central to creating experiences dictated by the customer. The Nike Live store leaned on AI and VR to create immersive, customer-driven experiences localized to area shoppers. Burberry uses AR to bring customers deeper into product design. With the IKEA Place app, customers can virtually place products in their home, “trying on” larger pieces before committing to a purchase.

Though IKEA and Burberry are diverse in their audience base and execution, the goal is the same — to create compelling experiences that make it easier to make the decision to buy. That’s what customers demand, and that’s what you need to deliver.

“Your customer lives in a digital world — 24/7, always on, no weekends, no time off, no store hours, no holidays,” says Mark Lavelle, senior vice president of commerce and digital experience at Adobe. “Your brand has to be there. You have to be ready. This is where the future will be won and lost in terms of commerce. It is what digital transformation is all about.”

See how commerce is being redefined — and what it means for your business — with more stories in our Brick and Click Collection.