When it comes to giving gifts, many people love to get creative. But when shopping for ourselves, we stick with what we know: the same shade of lipstick, a single brand of leggings, or another plain black dress. Search algorithms create filter bubbles around what we want and reflect opinions back to us that we already have, further closing us off from new information or items.
Shopping has changed. It has become much more intimate, inviting retailers into our homes through digital channels. Retailers now have broader access to consumer buying behaviors—data they can use and analyze to break us out of our shopping bubbles. Through greater personalization and less in-person pressure, people are more likely to make decisions based on their wants and needs, providing more data that further deepens the intimacy of a shopper’s digital experience.
Most of us don’t need another “black dress.” We need digital retailers to find more creative ways to bring new color into our lives.
A MORE INTIMATE EXPERIENCE
The physical distance between retailer and customer may have grown, but digital retailers have enhanced the intimacy of shopping by knowing their consumers better. Companies want to streamline the human interactions happening in a physical store and focus on collecting consumer data from digital experiences to build stronger, more relevant relationships.
As a consumer, it becomes easier to make your preferred decision when you only have to be held accountable to yourself. When Panera Bread made digital all interactions where an in-person experience added no value, I became more comfortable buying whatever I really wanted through the app than having to interact with three cooks and a cashier to get it.
In various ways, another person’s presence while you shop can interfere with choosing what you would naturally want. When buying at home, consumers tend to create relationships with a brand or product, but in a store, the relationship is between you and the seller, and often comes with a lot of noise. When I used to go to large department stores, I had to prepare myself to mute that noise, blocking out statements such as, “You look skinny in that” or “This will improve your skin.”
They throw these generic phrases at you, targeting your weaknesses to get you to buy in. But with a million options out there, generic no longer works. Unless those phrases genuinely apply to us, that noise sounds like screaming in our ears. There’s much less pressure when making a decision about sunscreen when I can read the details on a bottle without a person making noise behind me. A digital brand can send me details or samples to my home and for a much more relaxed experience.
GREATER CUSTOMIZATION AND STANDARDIZED SATISFACTION
Digital retailers know more about their customers than ever, rendering them more capable of creating customized experiences based on consumer behavior. Even if a salesperson stalked each person through the store, they could never keep track of every item a customer touched. Digital retailers record each item a customer views, the sizes and colors they check, and even the items they choose not to buy. That information helps provide a more accurate and highly customized experience by offering only the options customers want or need based on their specific buying behavior.
In a store, brands have little control over salesperson-customer interactions, but digital retailers can more easily standardize the sales process and customer experience. Some in-person sellers may be amazing at their job, but even the best salesperson has little control over how the customer will perceive their approach. They might come across as too direct, or not direct enough. Digital retailers, however, are getting creative with more frictionless ways to connect with their customers, like AI and 24/7 chatbot features that provide more autonomy to shoppers while taking pressure off of customer service teams.
BUY SMARTER AND BOLDER
Without the judgment of face-to-face interactions, the intimacy digital companies can build with their customers also emboldens them to move beyond their comfort zones. We usually only buy what we feel certain is a good choice, and therefore end up with multiple versions of the same black dress. Without the pressure of a physical sale, digital retail makes it easier for customers to opt in or out of a purchase. Instead of trying something on with someone outside your dressing room door, you have more time and freedom to make online shopping decisions from home in an environment that offers the privacy to be more adventurous.
I always used to imagine what I would look like as blonde or a redhead, but with digital retail, I no longer have to imagine. I can stand in front of a screen and see my hair in different cuts and colors. I can design a pair of sneakers and augmented reality shows me what they look like on my feet. Instead of trying seven shades of lipstick to find one I like, I can see what each color looks like on me to find the best one, even if it’s not my normal shade, and buy it.
Digital retail makes it effortless to try out something new. If I went into a store and tried on blue lipstick with the sales associate watching me, I might feel pressured to buy it, even if I hate it. The safety and privacy of digital shopping lets us discover new products in ways that more authentically represent our wants and needs.
With the digital transformation of retail, digital brands have an opportunity to take a much more intimate and informed approach to sales at a time when customers overwhelmingly expect personalized experiences. While pushy salespeople, good lighting, or “skinny mirrors” in stores can convince us to buy what we don’t want, digital retailers encourage new products based on our behavior and curate more customized offerings.
Advances in digital retail empower people to make better choices, stay true to themselves, and grow as consumers. Instead of another black dress, digital retail encourages you to try it on in red.
Efrat is CMO at Quantum Metric, with extensive experience in tech leadership and customer-centric organization strategies.