by James Brooke
The modern consumer is a very different animal to its high-street-traipsing, catalogue-toting, website-trawling forebear, who peered at grainy photos on online stores with mistrust. A savvier consumer has risen to the top of the commerce food chain, and with it, expectations have risen.
The advent and proliferation of social media, alongside tablet and smartphone mobile devices, has contributed to a dramatic shift in consumer behaviour. This shift will come to dominate and is already changing the way brands manage their digital interaction with customers. For the first time, the online experience has moved beyond the passive and visual. It now offers an immersive experience to rival that of the bricks and mortar store.
Most brands accept a smartphone and tablet-optimised site or a social presence as de facto elements of building an online brand identity and mobile retail strategy. However thanks to the increasing quality and fidelity of smartphone and tablet graphics, as well as continual connection to social channels, simply transposing catalogue and browser experiences onto touch and tagging on social elements is not enough.
Instead, touchscreen and social optimised experiences must be at the heart of the brand experience if they are to make the most of their huge commercial potential. However, achieving that means that brands need to understand the psychologies that drive effective touch experiences and shape patterns of social behaviour.
Mobile is no longer just a poor cousin to the online store, which consumers turn to hurriedly, for research only or as a last resort. Whether browsing in front of the TV, shopping on the go, using for reference while in-store, or for finding the closest shop, mobile is a crucial touch point for retailers that consumers turn to time and again.
Super high-resolution touch screen devices mean that, for the first time, digital media outstrips print in terms of image resolution and fidelity. As a result, retailers and brands can use very high fidelity digital media to highlight product detailing and quality, using more screen real estate for product imagery.
The arrival of touch brings a wealth of opportunity to engage with consumers more deeply and in more meaningful ways – drawing on the way we are wired to respond. Whether it’s scratch cards, games, buttons or gestures, physical interaction lends a dynamism and sense of play that drives engagement. When it comes to developing a mobile store, it’s critical that retailers do not simply create a cut down version of their main site. However tempting this may be in terms of saving time it’s costly in terms of the user experience. Retailers should design sites and applications around the broad palette of capabilities touch and gesture based interaction presents. Intuition and playfulness are at the heart of the touch revolution that has overtaken new devices, and retailers have a long way to go to exploit touch to anything like its full potential.
Retailers are increasingly trying to find a way to cut through the marketing noise and engage directly with their customers. Many of us now follow a couple of our favourite brands on twitter, have repinned a product we love on Pinterest or have liked something on Facebook to secure a discount or enter a competition. However effective use of social media for retailers isn’t in the number of likes or followers, it’s about influence. The power of influence is allowing your own customers to spread the word about your brand, drawing in peers and delivering the credibility that comes from a personal recommendation.
For retailers, learning how to influence requires an understanding of the underlying psychology that drives consumers to create, collate and share. Individual social motivations are, of course, many and varied. However, when it comes to retail and brand engagement, two specific social types come to the fore: the curator and the intelligent consumer.
Curators see themselves as a brand and aim to differentiate by measure of good taste, creativity and style. On the other hand, the intelligent consumer follows influencers and content producers to discover what’s new, reducing the effort to find good products. For the curator, social recognition is at the heart of their drive and, in partnership with the intelligent consumer, they create a virtuous circle of creation and sharing for brands that are able to engage them.
Over the next five years, the most successful brands and retailers will move away from ‘thin’ ecommerce experiences. They will acquire the ability to deliver multi-sensory experiences with a sense of depth and physicality, and give users simple, intuitive tools with which to create, curate and share unique content that communicates their own personal brand identity.
In simple terms, really exploiting touch and social is about enabling consumers to ‘go inside’ not just look through a window. At present, many of those opportunities feel more like challenges, but the brands acquiring the tools and capabilities required to overcome those challenges will reap significant rewards.
James Brooke is CEO at Amplience