If you’ve ever tried to park at the mall come holiday time, you know that despite the soaring popularity of ecommerce, many people still opt to visit stores in person. Both brick-and-mortar and online retail experiences have their advantages, which is why the Holy Grail for merchants has been to create a seamless omnichannel shopping experience that perfectly blends the two while conveying a consistent brand image. Unfortunately, this goal has proven largely elusive.
In fact, a recent omnichannel research study from e-commerce solution provider Mozu found that 58% of retail executives identified a seamless customer experience across channels as either important or very important. Yet only 13% of those same retailers considered themselves fully integrated across said channels.
Keeping consumers consistently engaged with both physical and online stores is especially important come holiday shopping season, when the stakes to outsell competitors and turn a profit are at their highest. And that is why some innovative retailers are now turning to live interactive online video broadcasts to finally bridge this gap between these sales channels, allowing their product experts to digitally engage with consumers in a meaningful way while maintaining continuity in their messaging.
A New Omni-Channel Middle Ground
Live interactive online video serves as a perfect middle ground consumer touch point. The technology effectively combines the broad reach, click-to-buy convenience and detailed product descriptions of online commerce with the hallmarks of elite brick-and-mortar shopping experiences—on-site product expertise and interaction with brand ambassadors.
Such interaction is possible because the interactive video broadcast incorporates a real-time chat component, allowing viewers to directly pose live product questions and comments to the personalities hosting the broadcast.
According to a blog post written by Sridhar Ramaswamy, Senior Vice President of Ads and Commerce at Google, interactive video is among the emerging technology options that are “bringing products alive on customers’ multiple screens. Each digital stride opens exciting opportunities to close the gap between an on-screen image and that experience of holding a product in a store.”
The combination of live video, social messaging and instant commerce “allows the store’s product expert to enter the home/workplace of the consumer, present the product stories, and create interaction (e.g., consumers can ask questions) in a way that e-commerce websites can’t,” stated Leslie Hand, Program Vice President at consulting firm IDC Retail Insights, in an Analyst Connection paper released in September 2014. “Simply enabling this interaction between consumers and brand/product experts allows the store brand to create a consistent experience between the physical store and the online store.”
Extending the In-Store Product Expert Experience
Retailers can leverage this technology in a multitude of beneficial ways. For example, housewares retailer Pottery Barn, has been hosting a series of web-based live interactive broadcasts throughout Fall 2014 to re-create the in-store experience for online viewers, with a holiday twist.
During these live broadcasts, the company’s in-house interior designers have offered decorating tips and gift ideas for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, while answering audience questions in real time. As a bonus, guest mixologists shared their holiday cocktail recipes. Consumers interested in purchasing any of the showcased products could learn more via product tabs and click on a “Buy Now” button, all embedded within the same branded interface as the video window and chat window.
In late October, San Mateo, Calif.-based camera manufacturer GoPro and Kent, Wash.-based sporting goods/outdoors retailer REI jointly collaborated on a live interactive video broadcast. They featured the new GoPro HERO4 Camera and offered an inside look at its groundbreaking features. Several key GoPro accessories were also discussed throughout the broadcast, which took place at REI’s flagship Seattle store. Customers watching live were able to ask questions, touching on such topics such as equipment compatibility, editing software and battery life. They could also purchase the camera and accessories at any time during the event.
Similarly, shoe company New Balance recently collaborated with approximately 50 independent running specialty stores across the U.S. to unveil its new 880v4 running shoe via online interactive broadcast.
Themed to evoke a red-carpet Hollywood event, the broadcast originated from New Balance’s Boston headquarters, where a product expert demonstrated the 880’s latest features. Viewers watching from their personal computers or on large video screens at the participating stores could submit questions and comments in real time.
The New Balance product manager’s passion, knowledge, insights and handling of the shoe during the online event created an emotional connection with the audience and helped to close the gap between a static on-screen product image and the experience of being in-store.
Brandlive (Portland, Ore.) provided the online interactive video platform to the companies featured in all three retail examples. Expect even more retailers to jump on this exciting new omni-channel opportunity as early adopters reap the rewards of a stronger emotional connection, increased sales conversion rates and brand storytelling consistency. After all, what company doesn’t have these benefits on its holiday wish list?
Frtiz Brumder is CEO of Brandlive