Shopping anywhere can make consumers lonely, because they keep going from online to offline searching for the same thing—relevancy.
Offline offers a different reality than online and vice versa. What retail is figuring out in box stores and in online hubs is that to offer real retail experience that doesn't make a consumer lonely, you have to deliver the retail inventory as if it was content in a media engine.
So, how do we stop such a disconnect in online and offline retail experiences?
Seeking Fulfillment in the Shopping Experience
You walk into a big-box retail store, intent on choosing an item that you need. You find the item, and then a salesperson finds you. Alternatively, you hunt down a salesperson because you can't find the item you want.
Your shopping experience becomes even more isolating when you discover that rather than try to help you find the product most meaningful to your life, the salesperson actually is trying to fulfill a commission or a quota by upselling you on the item, adding on additional features, like warranties and rebates, or long-term insurance.
This happens a lot in electronics stores, and in other stores where people are looking for equipment or goods to do a particular task in their lives.
Or, you are trying to find a pair of jeans, and the conversation you have with the salesperson feels dry, barren, and completely artificial (or when those jeans aren't flattering, even insulting). You can almost say what the salesperson is going to say to you for them.
"Finding everything okay?" Well, I have a pair of jeans in my hands. I guess I have found something. A lot of big-box or offline shopping ends in dismay.
Thinking about it makes me think that the biggest reason online shopping wins is because I can find what I want, have something perfectly suited to me recommended to me, and I can sometimes leave without having to pay tax or a delivery charge.
Then I talk to Alexandra Mysoor, cofounder and CEO at online natural goods superstore Generation Orange. She makes the case that online and offline are actually blurring their distinctive behavioral and cultural lines, because they both need something that the other does well. And that something is relevancy. Offline and online are becoming versions of each other, mimicking something that is happening in the media world.
Proprietors are becoming expert at delivering meaning to consumers, rather than products. If you have a lifestyle that lacks something, you also probably know that just buying a good is not going to satisfy that longing.
But learning something about others who are shopping, or the person who is offering things you are shopping for, makes a big difference.
Both online and offline are spoiling shoppers for choice.
"There is so much fatigue in content; and there’s the same thing in terms of retail. [Shoppers ask] ‘How do I figure out what works for me?’" says Mysoor.
All Rise, Curators
People frustrated with overabundance of choice, but an inefficient retail system that does not organize this choice well, can find satisfaction with curation, she says.
Mysoor is working on this with Par Avion, an idea that came from her experience growing up Indian in the Midwest and receiving "exotic" Air Mail envelopes from a family member.
The site will be a curated shopping experience. Mysoor goes around the world and brings back items she finds in her travels and then recommends them to women to buy. We've talked about this trend before; Shauna Mei, CEO of Aha Life, does something similar.
Why? Women are looking to online shopping as a form of that "retail therapy" that we know so well, says Mysoor. But more than that, there are millions of middle-class women out there, some of whom live in flyover states, who buy more of a product, more often, especially when they are given the opportunity to shop in a community.
When women shop, they are shopping to create or participate in a lifestyle, says Mysoor. This is something she identified in herself when she had the time to travel and follow her hobby of visiting exotic places. People who found out about her travels were entranced by her ability to see things they could not see in real life.
"I get to follow my passion, find the products, and send you video clips of me using the product," says Mysoor, explaining Par Avion.
Connecting to Influencers
Want to see how shopping will change, online and offline? Listen to Mysoor's pitch in her video explaining Par Avion.
What she does really really well with this thing is connecting to influencers. In her video, she talks about driving interest in her product offering by giving those who find people for her business a chance to talk to her.
This is delivering relevance and delivering a social connection. When people shop, they want the tangible exchange of emotional values, ideas, and recommendations.
And look at the rise of sites like Pinterest, says Mysoor. Now a woman in Idaho who has some shred of fashion sense can curate an abundance of fashion items that she either wants to try on, wears already, or wishes she could buy. Then she can show that to her community of friends. Those people will consume not only the clothes that she links to and identifies as worthy retail shopping targets.
They will also consume her experiences.
Shopping is media. Retail is content.
[Image: Flickr user coco+kelley]