Building an online world with an offline feel

Brands continue to create ever more user-friendly and secure environments to encourage consumers to make purchases online. As a result, consumers have come to expect the highest standards from the digital purchasing process; a straightforward and swift experience that offers them better value than on the high street.

Digital shopping now represents the primary commerce vehicle for many UK consumers. Our recent pan-European research revealed that 43% of UK consumers now adopt a solely digital approach to shopping, using online channels to research and buy all kinds of products, from everyday shopping to fashion and lifestyle purchases. 34% of consumers say that they research a purchase online before venturing out to the high street; at the same time, 16% say they research products on the high street before making their purchase online. This paints a picture of today’s hybrid shopping experience, a picture confirmed by the fact that only 7% of consumers claim not to use digital channels for either research or purchase. We operate in a world where the internet plays a part in almost every purchase that is made; the opportunity for retailers remains huge but at the same time, competition is fiercer than ever.

We believe one of the driving forces behind the consumer’s online migration is the growth of incentives like voucher codes and cash back rewards. 81% of consumers told us that a cash back reward would make them switch retailers, while nearly half (46%) said that the availability of vouchers had improved the relationship they held with a particular retailer.

In addition we believe that retailers are successfully striving to break down perceived obstacles to purchasing online. For example, our research showed that 47% of shoppers across Europe consider trying products for size to be a major obstacle to their online shopping experience.

 Those brands that can offer a virtual ‘see, touch and feel’ service for fit-critical items like lingerie and men’s suits, combined with an easy means to send items back when necessary, will see return from  an enhanced consumer relationship, word of mouth endorsement and ultimately repeat custom. Further to adding the touch and feel experience, the consumer will want to be confident any clothing items will fit – so making sizing guides as explicit as possible will assist with this.

We work with Debenhams who have had real success in the online world in recent times. One reason for this is the company’s complementary approach to online and offline strategy. Its online team is constantly working on upgraded product information and visuals, incorporating extra views and zoom functionality that allow consumers to focus on the product in as much detail as they want, even down to the texture of the fabric itself. Debenhams combines this with easily accessible advice on what is likely to suit a particular body shape and guidelines that will help consumers make the purchase – for example, how to correctly measure bra size. If necessary, items purchased online can be returned either to the customer’s most convenient store or via mail without postage or packaging charges. The result is an easy and encouraging shopping experience from start to finish.

Retailers who can combine the best of the online and offline worlds in a complementary fashion have the potential to encourage increased and repeated sales from a receptive consumer audience. Value and convenience continue to be key drivers in this time of austerity, and marketers who can reflect the best of the high street in combination with the power of the digital medium will be ideally placed to capitalise on a gradually reviving economy. At the heart of loyalty lies a personal shopping experience that continually exceeds consumer expectations, with those brands that bring pleasure to the online sales process most likely to be rewarded with repeat custom.

Pete Rowe

Peter Rowe has held the position of Managing Director, affilinet UK, since 2008 and is a member of the European Management Team. He has full operational responsibility for all areas of the UK business including Sales, Affiliate Management, Client Services, Marketing, Strategy and Finance.
As part of the team that launched affilinet UK in late 2005, Peter has helped establish affilinet in a highly competitive marketplace and been integral in recruiting and growing key accounts. Prior to joining affilinet Peter was Head of Operations at dgm and a Project Manager for HP Global Services working in the Telecoms practice. Peter holds a BA (Hons) in Business and Finance.
Interview with Peter Rowe.

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