How to Create an Online Emotional Connection

May 19, 2009 12:06 AM  By

Walking into Bergdorf Goodman is an explosion of senses – the colors, fabrics and shiny things in display cases—these thousands of products all within a flick of an eye. One is immediately immersed in the experience and encouraged to wander further into the upscale department store, picking up items on the way.

Now imagine shopping at an online department store, where the Website doles out 16 products per page…where you click, scroll and…. wait. Yawn.

Why has there been such disconnect between in-store and online retail experiences, given all the technology advancements in the past few years? Retailers and brands need to exploit the opportunity to create online customer experiences that transcend the typical and help to maximize the time the customer spends with them – especially since the Web, for many, is the only growth channel.

Consumers have come to expect the basics online: optimized product catalogs, guided navigation and stellar product merchandising. But it’s the truly innovative and creative online experiences that help to create a romance with the customer and deepen brand loyalty to ultimately drive sales.

An emotional connection
Higher bandwidth, larger image capabilities and improved usability mean that consumers now have the ability to get the most of their online experience. And their expectations of retailers are quickly rising as a result.

According to comScore, during the past holiday shopping season, the number of U.S. consumers who watched videos online increased a whopping 40% from the previous year. Brands that are not streaming video are missing out on a simple way to engage shoppers and entice them to spend more time on their site.

As a starting point, harnessing video and appropriate brand imagery as part of a fluid site experience can help brands create the “wow” factor that makes online shopping a fun, rewarding and stimulating experience.

For example, an accessories retailer can help set the mood by streaming video of models wearing iconic bags walking down the street or feature dramatic imagery that reflects the season’s theme and surprises the visitor. Webcasting behind-the-scenes videos of a recent fashion show, photo shoot or interviews with company reps sharing insider gossip can help the customer feel an emotional connection to your product beyond the catalog.

Remember that your competitor is just a click away. It’s these types of exciting and unexpected experiences that will make the difference between clicking away from your site to the next retailer or not. The customer feels drawn into the brand, compelled and emotionally engaged to explore further.

Making the site quick and easy is equally and critically important here. Long, annoying animations that get in the way of the user achieving their goals are not the point.

Rather, it’s about feeding the customer visual stimulation and tools that help and excite them during their visit. It goes without saying that videos and imagery should load flawlessly each and every time and blend seamlessly with the site.

Solidifying the relationship
Stunning visuals and images are the starting point for the emotional connection. But creating innovative and personalized ways for customers to interact with your product and your brand online will solidify the relationship and help generate a steady revenue stream.

For example, allowing users to create their own profiles and interact with product designers and personalities associated with the brand will undoubtedly lead to a unique shopping experience for the customer that feels exclusive and special.

Many merchants are taking this to the next level and creating not only a shopping destination for their customer online, but a central hub for customers to interact and play while they shop. Leveraging Web 2.0 social shopping technologies where appropriate to create a type of brand-e-commerce and social networking hybrid can be powerful in establishing a deep relationship with your customer that keeps them coming back.

This is especially true for brands and retailers that can incite a loyal base of followers and brand advocates. Including fun tools like blogs, user generated content and online communities for your followers can help integrate your brand into the customer’s lifestyle, encouraging repeat visits and driving sales.

The results?
These efforts will result in an effective emotional connection that keeps customers on the site longer and, even more importantly, motivates them to become a repeat visitor and tell others about it. At its peak, this relationship will compel them to find and visit a store, if available, and will drive them to shop your site online and overall to shop more often.

James Gardner and Tony King are cofounders of Createthe Group (www.createthegroup.com), a digital marketer in the fashion and luxury retail segments.