Why retailers should be showrooms for online purchases

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You’re in a department store and spot an item you love … but you can’t find one in your size ;-(

You approach a sales assistant who looks up the item on the point of sale computer and informs you that while there are none in your size in stock, the store’s online shop has plenty.

Would you like to make an online purchase?

That kind of transaction is a vision described by Robbie Robertson, managing director and co-founder of “experiential design” company e2, who says “We are seeing an understanding and acceptance that online retailing is here to stay.”

“Larger brands are accepting it. They are turning their stores into the experience and then 'closing' the sale online. The next step is admitting that retailing is a showroom and that it should be a showroom, but knowing you have such a robust online store you can sell online in the shop.”

Doing so, he says, can even be more engaging for customers.

“It prolongs the retail experience and gives you a chance for another experience,” he says. “They come into the shop, buy it, then carry on with their lives. A few days later it arrives and they go wow – they get the buying experience all over again.”

Robertson’s fame as an experience designer includes work on OPSM Eyehub, a Melbourne store that has become famous for offering a wind tunnel and “glare simulator” so that shoppers can test the glasses they want to wear when cycling or skiing.

The simulations were developed in response to OPSM's desire to escape from a price war.

“When OPSM came to us they said ‘We are degrading our status as leaders in the industry by piling high and selling cheap. What can we do at the other end of the spectrum to show we are a trusted advisor?’”

Robertson started by asking what customers want.

“Any fashion store lets you try on the products,” he says.

Most opticians did not offer more than a glance in the mirror. There’s also a big gap between the amount of trust customers place in qualified medical professional like an optician and the sales assistants at front of house in most optical stores.

“The trusted advisor position of the opticians was not being translated to the shop floor,” Robertson explains. “We needed optical experts on the floor and in the back room.”

In-store simulators helped by giving customers an experience of products, while better training for sales assistants kicked things along too and meant OPSM did not have to lead with price.ad with price.

Friendly feedback

Another feature at EyeHub offers customers the chance to take photos of themselves wearing their planned purchase, so they can share the shots and ask friends for feedback.

“People want to ask their friends if they look good in something before they spend $100 or $200," Robertson says. "That need for confirmation and acceptance from friends is becoming part of the retail world. I think you’ll see it in a lot of retailers in the next five years.”


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