Mind the gap

Retail brands have spent decades creating delightful and differentiating in-store experiences. They have spent significantly less time creating delightful and differentiating digital experiences. And it shows.

You needn’t take our word for it. See for yourself: Select two retail brands on opposite ends of the price spectrum and go shopping for the same type of item in the physical retail space and on your phone or tablet. More often than not, the in-store visits will feel wildly divergent. Meanwhile, you’ll barely be able to tell the two places apart in the digital realm. (In the archives of UX Magazine you can read about my own Patagonia-versus-Walmart test, published just before Patagonia upped its digital game).

Recent research shows that shoppers would spend more if brands provided eCommerce on par with the brick-and-mortar sensibilities they’ve spent decades honing. In an October 2013 study commissioned by EffectiveUI, and conducted by Harris Interactive in the United States among more than 2,000 adults, respondents said they would do 12% more shopping online or via mobile if the brands tried harder to express their unique identities in that forum. In a $225 billion market, as reported by Internet Retailer, this equates to a $27 billion opportunity for online retailers.

When the shopping experience provided by a brand’s website or app falls short of the standards the physical store sets, we lose some of our motivation to complete the purchase online. Many of us have had that experience, where we’ve abandoned a website with the plan of visiting the store instead in order to feel comfortable making the purchase. But what about those times we don’t get around to visiting the store? Those become lost sales. Even if we do make the trip, it still feels like a preventable inconvenience, like the brand has let us down. When we do put up with a poor web or mobile shopping experience and make the purchase online, we may be left with uncertainty about the buying decision—and with a less favorable impression of the brand. And again: when brand differentiation is diminished, business can be lost.

The Harris study that EffectiveUI commissioned provides additional evidence of this. Respondents said they were frustrated with the usability of websites 23% of the time, and with mobile apps 25% of the time. This annoyance has huge implications; 87% of respondents say that a vexing digital encounter leads to at least a somewhat negative perception of that brand.

All this isn’t to say that the digital experience should precisely mirror the in-store experience; at their best, they will play complementary roles. But when it comes to satisfying customers, creating brand differentiation, and winning repeat business, the quality of the experiences should at least be on par with each other—combined in extraordinary ways to delight shoppers and retailers alike. That, to me, is Continuous Commerce™.

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