Let us take a look at how the online experience is affecting a brand's ability to create and sustain meaningful connections:
Sensory engagement is key in establishing an emotional connection with a brand, especially when it comes to products that offer a tangible experience.
We have recently seen the rise in popularity of independent online retailers in South Africa. The relationship between the brand, the retailer and the shopper is being challenged.
The challenge to brands which are being sold through independent retailers, whether online or direct, is that the shopper is building the connection with the retailing site. This trend is also giving these retailers the advantage of being able to profile their shoppers and shopping trends and use this data to their advantage and allow them to actively market relevant products or events. Brand owners are losing out on this knowledge or advantage and their equity is being transferred to the 'channel' brand. Brands such as Kalahari and Zando are examples of online retailers who are offering a great service to consumers, and at the same time developing the relationship with the consumer instead of the brands they sell.
With delivery and payment methods that allow for the shopper to purchase from the comfort of their home or office, and delivery to their door, consumers are not having to contend with crowds in shopping malls anymore. Brands should be encouraging shoppers to make this trip a unique and memorable experience - one that delights. Herein lays the opportunity for brands to be creative. For example, in the US, there is a mobile application called 'Shopkick' which rewards customers with points and products simply by walking into the store - a great way to get people into your store and experience your brand.
Online shopping makes habitual purchases easy, but this now creates a challenge for brands that are not in the shoppers consideration set. Getting a shopper to change their habitual purchases online will be tricky and will require using innovative persuasion tactics to engage with shoppers in the online world. If the shopper isn't going to you, go to the shopper. Social networks can be used to make an impact on habitual shopping patterns; viral campaigns and targeted online advertising are examples of how to grab a consumer's attention and place you in their consideration set.
Shopping has traditionally been a social experience and by moving the shopping experience online, it has lost its social 'appeal'. Brands have started to use social networks to display catalogues in an attempt to keep the social aspect alive. These networks have allowed shoppers to browse, share opinions and start conversations online about their favourite brands. Not only has shopping become easier, but socialising too can take place from the comfort of your couch.
Although online shopping serves some shoppers best in today's busy world, this is impacting on brand equity as the emotional connection between brand and customer is lost through the online world. It is not a case of online versus in-store anymore, but one where we need to use both platforms together to create an advantage.
In a real world relationship, physical and face-to-face interaction is important in sustaining a meaningful connection, whereas the online world simply makes it possible for us to connect over distance. The same should apply for brands that still want to sustain or create meaningful connections with their shoppers. Although the world is moving towards a 'virtual society', brands can use this opportunity to bring back the human element of shopping, supported by the online world. By excelling at both the in-store and online platforms, brands can create a seamless shopper experience that meets shoppers' needs, resulting in building brand loyalty in the long term.