Amy is sitting in class. She’s trying to pay attention to her professor but just can’t seem to focus. She’s thinking about this past weekend, where she stumbled across an online retailer’s footprint. The thoughts are vivid and positive. So much so that she decides to click out of her lecture notes tab and open up a browser where she can shop online.

Doug has had a really busy morning and now that he’s finally read through all of his emails at the office, he feels like he needs to catch a quick break. Among the thousands of thoughts about work in his mind, he manages to nitpick a smaller thought focused on what a great experience he had last evening after he left work. He was walking down to the subway when he became part of an online retailer’s experiential marketing campaign. He closes his email and opens up a browser that allows him to shop online.

Online shopping has been growing at an extreme rate. With people being more focused on convenience, sales at brick and mortar stores are starting to slowly decrease. Take Chubbies for instance – the up and coming shorts company targeted at men in their early 20s who has opted to not even open an actual store front and conduct all of their sales online to better suit the convenience needs of their consumers.

Almost all, if not all, large retailers have an online platform where their consumers are able to shop online. A Forrester Research report indicated that online retail sales were expected to grow to $414 billion in 2018, an astounding 41% growth from the year 2014, where online retailers experienced sales of $294 billion. This online relationship is indeed a relationship with consumers, but it introduces yet another barrier to creating a fruitful relationship between brands and consumers that makes feel as if they are a part of the brands they purchase.

This trend is almost unavoidable. With our society headed in the way that it is – a more interconnected society with an emphasis on mobile information – the future of retail will be online retail. This busy lifestyle brings convenience and value to the forefront of consumers’ concerns when it comes to making purchases. If a woman already knows her size and could buy a new blouse by opening an app on her phone while she’s walking to her destination and have it delivered to her house in less than two days, why would she bother walking all the way to the store to make that purchase?

The thing with online retail is that it is such a diverse market that the opportunities for experiential marketing are almost infinite. Amy is a college student, who might by shopping for clothes, whereas Doug is the breadwinner in his family of five and may be shopping for a new luxury watch. The two retailers that established relationships with these hypothetical consumers are without a doubt completely different and target completely different segments. However, both of these brands were able to use experiential marketing to capture value from consumers.

Online retailers should aim to, like most other brands, encompass not only the value of the convenience that they provide, but the brand’s core beliefs when constructing an experiential marketing campaign. Zappos, the large online retailer, did a good job with this. Zappos is known for, among other things, the great company culture. They shared this positive culture with consumers by turning an airport bag claim treadmill into a game show experience that gave away prizes for consumers claiming their bags the day before Thanksgiving, one of the worst days to travel. This little surprise brought a lot of goodwill to the brand and gave consumers an extra push to check out Zappos’ online website.

As far as online retail activations go, the brands should focus on getting consumers to download their apps and interact with their merchandise while at the footprint. This will lead to good brand association, consequently leading to positive thoughts revolving around the brand and ultimately higher sales.

With the barrier created by placing the screen between buyer and seller, consumers need even more reinforcement than usual. They don’t get the full experience of walking into a store and taking in the brand’s atmosphere. Experiential marketing is an effective tool for online retailers to use when trying to connect with their consumers. Even by setting up a simple footprint and driving home a positive experience, the online retail brand will be able to generate an experience that leaves trailing thoughts behind, pulling the consumer right into the brand’s website.

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