99designs head of marketing Shayne Tilley discusses why you need to treat your eCommerce store like a physical shopfront. 

Australians enjoy a shared emotional connection to the experience of shopping local, and if the pandemic has had any positives at all, one has been the outpouring of conscious support for small business during tough times.

But as we learn to live with the current situation, the landscape is rapidly changing.

Lockdowns and health concerns have prompted more people to embrace ecommerce than ever before, with 33% of Ausssies now buying more online than they did before the outbreak.

So as eCommerce becomes even more critical, how do you make sure your online offering recreates the same engaging type of experience that your customers already know and love?

The trick lies in treating your online brand in much the same way you would your physical store.

You want to create the same kind of connection with your customers that you would if you were selling to them in person, so seize the opportunity to stamp your brand and personality throughout the entire ecommerce journey – from discovery, through to purchase and delivery.

Still not convinced? Here are four reasons you should be thinking about your brand’s eCommerce platform like a physical store:

Reason 1: To capture the attention of customers and create an engaging first impression

Think of your website as your virtual shop window. Like your window, your website is the first thing that people see when they discover your shop. It's often a place you display your new products or best sellers, but it's also a space to tell your brand story and draw in potential customers. Your homepage should do exactly the same thing.

How to do it: Create a memorable web experience and keep your branding consistent throughout

You can apply traditional visual merchandising tactics to an ecommerce platform as effectively as you can to a shop window. High quality visual design is imperative for increasing engagement and the time customers spend on your site.

Brand consistency throughout online touchpoints plays a big part in this. It fosters vital trust and also prompts recognition. Your customers should recognise you from a digital mile away.

For example, you know a Le Labo Fragrances store by its distinctive rustic aesthetic, laboratory style labelling, typewriter fonts, and of course the signature Santal 33 scent.

When you land on their website they recreate the same brand experience in a digital sphere, on every single page.

Their branding is consistent throughout and it's hard not to become immersed in their world once on the site.

Reason 2: To show off your products in best light and encourage browsing

Think about how you set up your physical store layout and product displays.

Shelves are arranged to display products in the most desirable way, and layouts help customers navigate the space more easily.

For many shoppers, browsing is just as fun as purchasing and you want customers to feel immersed in your shop without distraction; the ecommerce journey should be exactly the same.

How to do it: Create seamless shopping pages and use eye catching imagery

One of the most important things when designing an online shop is keeping it simple.

Less is always more when it comes to ecommerce design.

Too many colours, banner ads and popups will just distract customers.

Keep it clear and clean, and keep the focus on the sale.

How you showcase your products is important too.

Product pages (your digital shelves!) should have all the relevant information easily available and include professional images from a variety of angles.

This builds confidence and trust, and helps break down the barrier of customers needing to physically see the product before they buy.

Reason 3: To create an emotional connection with your customers

As a retail business owner, interacting and connecting with customers is as important as it is enjoyable.

It's an opportunity to share the story of your brand and get them excited about your product.

But now you've moved to an online store, things are different.

You need to communicate that story throughout your entire online store, knowing that the only physical touchpoint your customers have with your brand is the parcel they receive in the post.

How to do it: Invest in packaging design that tells a story

Packaging design has always been important, but with the rise of ecommerce, the importance is even higher.

Opening that package is the first time a customer will interact with your product in more than two dimensions on a screen, so it's important to make a good first impression.

A plain cardboard box is not going to evoke the same emotional response as something eye-catching and bespoke hitting your doorstep.

Consider all the different layers of a package from the product itself, to what it's shipped in.

Can you leverage colour and eye catching design to make the delivery stand out? What about including additional elements like stickers, postcards or tags that will help tell your brand story and add value to the unboxing?

Think about your packaging as an in-home opportunity to communicate key brand messaging, build deeper connections with customers, and ultimately make a lasting impression.

Reason 4: Continue to educate and inspire customers

Having a customer in store provides the opportunity to build rapport, guide them in choosing a product and for you to really add value to their shopping experience.

But even if you are now separated by a screen (and maybe a couple of oceans) you can still inspire and educate your customers in similar, if not more effective ways.

How to do it: Leverage different forms of content to create an online destination

Great content allows you to connect with and educate customers in an authentic way that builds an online community around your brand.

This helps build trust and relationships, and ultimately converts customers into long time advocates.

Consider what content you could leverage to add value for your customers. Is it written educational pieces on how to get the most out of your products?

Perhaps it's a step-by-step infographic or an animated content series on how a product was made.

Many cosmetics brands do this particularly well, elevating their websites above ecommerce functionality to be holistic destinations for advice, inspiration and educational content.

Australian cosmetic giant, Mecca, went one step further during the pandemic, moving in-person consultations and tutorials to video calls.

This enabled them to continue building relationships with their customers during tough times, providing real value, and keeping the brand front of mind.

Today, people are seeking more value from brands than ever before, and expectations are high.

Successful retail thrives on creating an enjoyable and authentic experience for customers - whether it's online or in person.

Brands that do this well are likely to succeed now and long into the future.

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