How to shift your online focus to emerge from the pandemic stronger

This article was originally published on Digital Commerce 360

While we may not be frequenting physical retail stores much as of late, they do showcase an important trend that we’re starting to see more online: the shift from transactions to engagement. Over the last few years, retail stores have shifted their focus from just selling the product, to creating engaging experiences that connect the customer with the lifestyle or brand. Now we’re seeing 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 VR experience that virtually transported 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. 

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, who offers virtual try-on, an AR-based experience that lets shoppers try different lipstick shades to find the perfect fit. Their parent brand, L’Oréal, also launched a personalized hair colour 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 not only improves the size selection process, but 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 a more important piece of 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 once stores are fully operational again, concerns around safety and physical distancing measures will make many shoppers think twice before going to stores just to “shop around.” McKinsey & Company reported that 75% of Chinese consumers said they avoided shopping malls in the 2 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.

What does this look like?

The traditional catalogue-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 a transaction-based experience – which can be difficult when ecommerce platforms were designed to deliver exactly that. 

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

This adds complexity, and retailers and brands will need to bring together multiple applications in a seamless way. The best way to do so is with a headless commerce approach. Introducing a leaner, decoupled web storefront on top of the applications allows you to seamlessly blend these different pieces together 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, the digital experience is key. Those able to create a unique, engaging experience for their online shoppers will thrive and come out the other side of this pandemic even stronger. 


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