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20 March 2018 3 min read

Internet Browser; an oxymoron.

Apply some retail imagination to your digital merchandising. Make it as enjoyable to discover new things. Think of customers leaning backwards not forwards. Browsing, not marching to a checkout.

Nearly everything for sale is available online. A few words into your favourite search engine. Ta da! Ideas, inspiration and something to buy. That is not browsing. That is searching.

Even the softer end of ecommerce is very functional. You have to start somewhere, a product, brand, store - some search words. Long lists of products appear for you to sort and search. A blizzard of links and tools, all very software. Is that how we want to choose discretionary purchases?

Number one on my list of Digital Era design principles is:

Assume everything can be digitised for the customer’s benefit.

Most of the time I mean it. All of the time it challenges us not to overstate the role of expensive, inconsistent humans.
A wander through a beautifully curated department store found me questioning this principle. The act of drinking in an environment full of interesting artefacts in a shameless retail-leisure experience is a very analogue experience. Being the self-justifying type I want to assert my principle.

How do we make digital better for browsing?

  • Design more immersive, interactive interfaces. Nothing says left-brain male like setting out your stall in a grid with some Boolean operators. Draw the visitor in, make it playful and fluid. More analogue. Find a meaningful way to measure it; “Not all who wander are lost.”, Bilbo Baggins.

And don’t blame the ecommerce platform; the formulaic patterns are convenient and sell well. Lift your head out of channel operations and technical excuses, and summon up some merchandising imagination to better present your product.

  • Help customers choose. Most often missing, is the dialogue between ‘look something shiny’ and ‘do you want to buy one?’ Imagine the journey as a sales conversation. What are you skipping?
  • Make it one continuous experience. Blend from introducing the range to the checkout. Leading with the product but no jarring distinction between “brand content” [sic], brochure and shop. Dyson.com is a great example.
  • Apply your data and personalise. Use what you know about each customer (and customers-at-large) to offer up products, ideas and content. Netflix does a pretty good job of introducing me to things I might be interested in. I won’t embarrass myself with a screenshot.
  • Project your retailing out to your customers. I still hear retailers wrestling with social media business cases. Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook are way better places to discover and browse products than retailer websites. Be in those places.

The vast majority of purchases are not done in browse-mode, so the lack of online browse-ability matters less, and browse-friendly stores get fewer opportunities to shine. Not least because stores are as hard to search as the internet is to browse. That’s another problem to solve.

Make digital more browse-able. That’s my retail bet, for low-margin profitable volume at least.