Nowadays more and more people are opting to stay in and do their shopping online, with customer convenience being a key motivator for this. Innovations such as one-click ordering and next day delivery have made online shopping the preferred method for consumers who wish to avoid the hassle of shopping on the high street with an armful of heavy shopping bags.

Despite this, online retailers still have a lot to learn from their brick-and-mortar counterparts. If e-commerce retailers are to continue to thrive in the future, they must work to integrate the best aspects of online and offline retail to provide the best solution for their customers.

Here, we’ll take a look at the key areas where e-commerce retailers can learn from the offline shopping experience.

The Store Layout

High street retailers invest an incredible amount of time and effort in optimising the layout of their store, with the primary goal of funnelling customers to the checkout with a basket full of items. Brick-and-mortar stores will strategically position products in highly visible places, like the checkout queue, to encourage more last-minute impulse buys.

This strategy can also be applied online. To do this, brands should consider making use of clever upselling buttons and pop-ups such as ‘Complete the look’, ‘Customers also bought’, or ‘You might also like’ suggestions to encourage customers to consider other products. If tailored effectively, this will help to increase the average order value and boost conversion rates.

Upselling buttons such as these can be incredibly valuable to an ecommerce business. In fact, product recommendation icons and buttons are responsible for an average of 10-30% of eCommerce site revenues, according to Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.

The Sales Assistant

One major advantage the physical shopping experience has over online retail is the face-to-face customer service element that staff can offer to customers. Questions can be answered instantaneously, and staff can offer personalised advice and support to the customer.

One way e-retailers can replicate this service online is through the use of a live chat feature, manned by a customer service representative who is on hand to answer any customer queries. By having someone available to answer customer queries online, this could significantly reduce shopping cart abandonment rates, which are currently around 77%.

Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are also providing ways for e-commerce brands to support their customers online. Chatbots and virtual assistants are making it possible for retailers to predict and pre-empt consumer decisions and enquiries by learning about their previous shopping history and making suggestions.

Levi’s ‘virtual stylist’ is a great example of how AI is being used effectively in e-commerce. The virtual assistant helps shoppers to find their “perfect pair of jeans”, while aiming to reduce returns by also providing sizing recommendations.

As online stores are effectively “open” 24/7, virtual support tools, such as chatbots, are a great way to give customers the help they require at any time – preventing the need to employ customer service staff around the clock.

As well as considering live sales assistants or chatbots, it’s extremely important that brands still provide accurate and informative content on site, given that 55% of consumers will use a retailer’s website as a primary source of information before they buy. Buying guides or look books are effective ways to assist customers in choosing the right product.

Visual Merchandising

People buy into aesthetically pleasing brands and products, That’s why physical stores, which put a huge amount of effort into visual merchandising, tend to have greater brand loyalty and drive greater footfall.

With e-commerce becoming more and more competitive, online brands should be looking to stay ahead of their competitors by bringing this concept to their online stores too. While a website may not be able to appeal to all senses, making the site easy to navigate and ensuring that the products look as visually appealing as possible is therefore key.

To do this, brands need to prioritise exciting and inspirational visual content. While engaging product copy is incredibly important, quality product images and video will ultimately grab a customer’s attention. In fact, roughly four times as many people would rather watch a product video than read about the product.

Investing the time and money to create quality, hi-res images and videos to promote products will pay dividends in the long run, helping to boost customer engagement and conversion rates.

The Fitting Room

A huge bugbear for customers, when it comes to online shopping, is being unable to actually try products on for size. Being able to offer customers a way to see how products will look on them is an area where high street stores currently hold a considerable source of competitive advantage.

83% of shoppers consider shopping for clothes online as a “gamble”, as they are unable to predict how the products will look and fit before purchasing them. This uncertainty is costing e-commerce retailers a lot of money, with the average return rate for apparel purchased online around 20%.

Without the benefit of a changing room for customers to try on their items, or the opportunity to physically test a product out before they buy, it’s important that online product pages effectively provide customers with an accurate description of how an item fits and feels , as well as what features the product has.

Video is an effective way to demonstrate how items can be used. Fashion retailer ASOS is a great example of showing how product videos can help to boost sales and revenue.

Innovative retailers, such as Ikea, are also looking at emerging technologies to help solve this issue. Augmented reality (AR), which overlays 3D models of products into real world settings, can help customers to overcome the “imagination gap”, which is where shoppers choose not to buy a product after being unable to imagine how it will look. This innovative technology, set to transform the retail experience, helps consumers to visualise the product before they buy, so they are more likely to make a considered purchase.

Standing Out On The “Virtual High Street”

Although the popularity of online shopping continues to rise, so too do consumer expectations, with customers wanting both the speed and convenience that e-commerce brings, as well as all the advantages offered by high street shopping.

In order to meet these expectations, e-commerce retailers must look to the high street for inspiration if online retail is to continue to flourish in the years to come.

Just as brick-and-mortar stores rely upon effective visual merchandising, well thought out store layout and the personal touch professional sales assistants provide to succeed, so too must e-commerce businesses if they want to attract customers and stand out in the increasingly crowded virtual high street.