How to Create Blurred Lines Between Ecommerce and Brick-and-mortar

Change is coming to ecommerce as a wave of new technology promises to create blurred lines between brick-and-mortar and online shopping. From the early days when shopping was a solitary and high friction experience, ecommerce has and continues to evolve.

For example, using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and instant messaging represents a crude effort to reproduce the friend/family feedback and validation loop common in brick-and-mortar shopping. The problem with this approach is that social sharing doesn’t create a real and engaging collaborative shopping experience, primarily because it occurs away from the online store front.

To bridge the gap between online and brick-and-mortar retailing, and even go beyond what’s possible in physical stores, ecommerce sites must deliver an intimate, self-contained, collaborative shopping experience in the user’s browser. Within this digital cousin of the brick-and-mortar shop, customers can browse together, communicate, share sentiments about products, place items in a cart and make purchase decisions in real-time. They can even shop separately, and meet up later to finalize purchases.

Let’s explore some of the new capabilities that online retailers are using to bring people face to face on their websites, enable them to collaboratively shop together and capture intelligence on buying sentiments and preferences to convert more sales.

Shopping Together – Online
It’s a well-known fact that many buyers like to consult with others before making a decision.  For example, when friends go to a store together they try on clothes, shoes, jewelry, compare electronics, etc. They also ask each other for opinions, feedback and recommendations. Online retailers are adding capabilities to their websites to bring this brick-and-mortar experience to the web. They are integrating the ability for visitors to invite their friends in real-time to an ecommerce shopping session, browser products together and share recommendations, sentiments, etc. Unlike the physical world, this virtual environment transcends time zones and geographies, allowing people in different cities, states and even countries to shop together anytime.

Sharing Sentiments
Many purchases involve more than one decision maker, a husband, wife, business partner, friend, etc. In the brick-and-mortar world, visiting a store to pick out the right products is easy. To replicate this practice online, ecommerce sites are using tagging technologies. For example, shoppers can place sentiments on products they view, such as “like”, “maybe”, “expensive”, etc., and place the tagged items in a basket for comparison and discussion. Just like in a physical shop, two shoppers can visit different parts of the web store during a collaborative shopping session, to find and “bring back” products for consideration.

Engagement Intelligence
Today, online retailers are plagued by a common ailment – sentiment blindness.  This problem stems from two sources. First, ecommerce merchants are so focused on what a consumer did (via click-stream analysis), that they overlook the most important question – why did they make that decision in the first place?  And second, the technology needed to collect, aggregate and analyze shoppers’ sentiments hasn’t been readily available. This is changing.

Tools are emerging that can propel ecommerce shopping past its brick-and-mortar brethren by providing visibility into how consumers feel about the products (pricing features, etc.) they browse in online stores. In order to do this, ecommerce merchants must go beyond the ‘what’ and be able to understand the ‘why.’  More specifically, why did a shopper purchase/not purchase a particular product? They need to be able to do this in a structured, repeatable and scalable fashion.

With access to this insight, ecommerce merchants can make pricing, promotion and inventory decisions that are based on quantitative sentiment. This includes reliably identifying cross-sell, up-sell and additive sales opportunities based on recommendations and sentiment data. Engagement intelligence also enables ecommerce merchants to optimize inventory by aligning the right mix of products with better pricing, packaging and promotion.

The convergence of ecommerce, mobile, social and analytics is redefining retail. Access to engagement intelligence promises to be one of the most disruptive forces in the brief history of ecommerce, and is likely to separate the winners from the losers. Online retailers need to get ahead of this trend, because nobody wants to be remembered as the MySpace of retail.

Chris Rallo is COO of BevyUp, a provider of collaborative shopping technology for online retailers.  He can be reached at: 206-701-1961, and on  Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

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