Success in ecommerce requires a strong brand, not just a smooth experience

Customer experience is important, but the problem for high street retailers rushing to ecommerce may be higher up the funnel.

There’s a lot written about the ‘customer experience’ in ecommerce. And it’s totally understandable – this stuff is still comparatively new for many brands, not to mention shoppers, and it can be very complicated. What’s more, ecommerce is seen as having to replicate some of the joy of shopping – not easy to do.

But in the recent avalanche of experience opinion pieces there is (forgive the mixed metaphor) an elephant in the room. Many retail brands aren’t strong enough to thrive online.

Of course, experience is important. Retailers selling online need to get product discovery right, especially when they have a large product range (just look at Amazon’s recommendation engine, which is estimated to generate 35% of sales).

Personalisation isn’t about bells and whistles

Conversion is important, too, meaning ease of purchase (another Amazon strong suit). And fulfilment and customer service are potentially the most frustrating parts of the whole journey; they need to be predictable and, preferably, swift (…Amazon).

If retailers don’t nail these practical elements of ecommerce they will either lose orders on their website, or lose customers’ trust and their future orders.

Developing an ecommerce brand

But the best way to compete with Amazon is to build your brand. The experience bit may be commoditised over time. Gymshark and Kylie Cosmetics have both scaled rapidly on Shopify, for example. Recommendation engines and dynamic merchandising are getting easier to ‘plug in’ to ecommerce platforms.

In August, Zalando reported a jump in brands using its logistics platform which, alongside partner marketing services, is driving increased profitability for the ecommerce giant. Similarly, Next has announced the first customer (Childsplay Clothing) for its Total Platform, with the chief executive’s half-year review stating: “The aim of Total Platform is to allow clients to grow their business without the capital costs, operational risks and management time associated with developing increasingly complex and expensive infrastructure. No one starts a new brand because they are passionate about warehousing and data protection! Total Platform allows brands to focus on the things they love doing and where they can add the most value – building their product ranges and developing their brand.”

So, to developing your brand. This becomes a different proposition in a world where online shopping takes a bigger slice of the pie. Competition is increased because barriers to entry are lowered.

Now is the time for retail marketers to make sure their brand is stamped all over the ecommerce experience.

Ecommerce pureplays like Boohoo and Gymshark enjoy a lot of organic customer acquisition thanks to their strong brands built on social media, admittedly targeting a young audience. Traffic may arrive from social, or from brand searches.

In the world of comparison shopping, a brand like MoneySuperMarket is not just about memorable TV advertising (which used to be the be-all and end-all in this sector), but about building a brand that helps customers with useful tools such as Credit Monitor, which gives customers tips and offers – and plays a role in acquisition through search, and then conversion and retention. Speaking to Econsultancy last year about MoneySuperMarket’s ‘Get Money Calm’ slogan, marketing director Lloyd Page said: “If our brand platform is linked from our comms to customer experience, customers will afford us the trust and responsibility to deliver on that.”

Differentiate your online journey

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies excel at this through-line, even if their customer acquisition costs can be high. Ultimately, this is the intoxicating thing about the term ‘customer experience’. It’s not just the product, but everything wrapped around it that gives you a chance to differentiate yourself. And it is brand that ties it all together.

Content design breeds user confidence

DTC brands open pop-up shops to reach a wider audience and make ‘real-life’ connections with shoppers. But think of this in reverse, if you remove physical stores from the picture for multichannel retailers, does the brand stand out enough throughout the online customer journey to compensate?

Though I’m not suggesting high street footfall makes brick-and-mortar retail a simple case of ‘if you build it, they will come’, I do think now is the time for retail marketers to make sure their brand is stamped all over the ecommerce experience. It’s the easiest way to beat out digital-first competition.