Creating Delight in Online Retail

It’s not just that online commerce is taking sales away from retailers. Well, it is, but it’s far more than a one to one ratio. The problem is not that Bob Smith bought his comforter set from Amazon and therefore Target lost out on the sale of a comforter. What’s really happening is that every online purchase is actually one less human being that walks inside your store. Why does retail not innovate around this problem?

Think about this: when’s the last time you found something really new and amazing while shopping online? Have you ever gone to Amazon to order, say, a case of this delicious Trident gum (Peach Mango) because you can’t seem to find it in stores anymore, only to discover an EVEN BETTER flavor of gum? No. You search for the gum, because you know you already like it, and at best you’re going to see that other people who searched for this item also looked at different flavors of gum.

Online shopping is too often about direct response. You search for something because you already know you want it, and so you go online and type it into Amazon or Google.

But how did you know you wanted it in the first place? You had to discover it first.

I definitely didn’t discover the (sadly) soon-to-be-discontinued Peach Mango flavor of Trident because I was doing literally anything on the internet. Shopping or otherwise.

No. I discovered it because I was in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it caught my eye. I bought a pack, tried a piece, and realize I’d just discovered my absolute favorite new flavor of gum. (This rarely happens — most of the time trying a new flavor of gum leads to reactions ranging from slight disappointment to mild disgust to WTF was I thinking when I put a piece of ham flavored bubble gum in my mouth.)

Impulse purchases. Serendipity. Discovery. Surprise. These things do not happen often enough in online stores. They happen in real life.

This seems obvious to me now that it’s been pointed out, but how often do you search for something you don’t already know? Never. Right?

Search is a very specific tool, that has more limited application than I used to think. Most of the time I find myself using Google as a handheld dictionary (define: obsequious) or as an argument-settling oracle (Wikipedia says lobsters DO come in both red and blue).

You can’t search for something if you don’t know it exists. So how does discovery happen in a post-Amazon Prime world?

I invented a technology for the purpose of bringing that offline experience of discovery and surprise to online retailers. And likewise, bring the online to the store. Disruptive technology can’t replace the kind service staff nor can it replace the charm of a well done shop in Mayfair, Union Square or the niche beauty of Royal Street. Hopefully we find a balance and realize, one day, it’s not us vs them. Both can and should support each other. Both must understand the customer far beyond clicks, cookies and coupons.

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